Tag Archives: Tom Scutt

King Charles III

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 19 October)

Original verse dramas are thin on the ground when it comes to the 20th and 21st century. The iambic pentameter doesn’t necessarily echo contemporary speech fashions, though Christopher Fry’s The Lady’s Not For Burning managed it successfully. Now Mike Bartlett’s “future history” play King Charles III joins the select band.

This production by Rupert Goold is currently on a national tour en route to Broadway. It began life at London’s Almeida Theatre with a different cast and has been revised and updated during its 18-month life. The set by Tom Scutt – a semi-circle of brick walls bisected horizontally by a Byzantine-style frieze of royal forebears – might serve equally well for one of Shakespeare’s history plays. Elements of the plot reinforce this.

Bartlett postulates the accession to the British throne of the present Prince of Wales. There is an early clash with convention, as the new king (Robert Powell) insists on having weekly meetings not just with his dour Welsh Prime Minister Evans (Tim Treloar) but with the infinitely more pliable Leader of the Opposition Stevens (Giles Taylor).

Meanwhile his younger son Harry (Richard Glaves) is churning up the local clubs and bars, in the course of which he meets Jess (Lucy Phelps). His heir William (Ben Righton) is concerned for the future of the monarchy and comes over as increasingly dominated by his wife Kate (Jennifer Bryden), who has more than a slight whiff of Lady Macbeth in her attitude to her husband.

A key factor in Goold’s production is the vocal score by Joceyn Pook, using texts from the Catholic liturgy (“Agnus Dei and “Dies irae”) to haunting effect. There’s an actual ghost as well – Diana (Beatrice Walker), whose message (like so many from supernatural sources) is ambiguous. This is a Delphic oracle definitely not to be trusted.

Interestingly, it is Taylor and Bryden who sound most at home with the blank verse format. Powell’s performance gives us a man of principles, capable of exercising his royal perogative and of listening – but not perhaps heeding. As the next generation takes over, Charles grows in stature to become a true tragic hero (more Shakespearean echoes).

Comedy? yes, certainly as the audience response demonstrates. Tragedy? possibly, if you can define that as a man who brings about his own destruction. Reality? who knows?

King Charles III runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 24 October. It can also be seen at the Theatre Royal, Norwich between 14 and 19 March 2016.

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Constellations

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 16 June)

The Royal Court Theatre’s production of Nick Payne’s one-act play Constellations might have been tailor-made for the Cambridge leg of its 2015 tour. When we enter the theatre, we see that the black stage is festooned with large matt and luminous white balloons, suspended by the sort of knotty silver chain to create an impression of the sort of 3D diagram physicists favour when discussing the working of the cosmos to a television lay audience (design is by Tom Scutt).

We meet two characters, both young. Marianne (Louise Brearley) is a scientist; she employs a chat-up line one which one would imagine is designed to kill any possibility of a flirtation stone dead. Roland (Joe Armstrong) is on the surface a simpler soul; he keeps bees for a living. Eventually they do set up home together, but that takes a number of twists and misunderstandings before Marianne is diagnosed with cancer.

Payne’s dialogue is razor-brilliant, with exchanges between his two characters overlapping and repeated with subtle changes of syntax and meaning. You need to keep wide awake as the story unfolds; there’s no time allowed by Michael Longhurst’s well-paced production for wool-gathering.

Brearley has the more difficult role of the two actors, for Marianne is – at any rate initially – not the most sympathetic of people. One feels perhaps more for Armstrong’s character, though Roland has his own complexities. Both thoroughly deserve the applause the first night audience awarded them, partly for never slipping in the dialogue but mainly for the sheer commitment of their performances.

Constellations runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 20 June.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2015