Posts Tagged ‘once in royal david’s city

07
May
17

Once In Royal David’s City

Once In Royal David’s City

Queensland Theatre & Black Swan State Theatre Company

QPAC Playhouse

April 22 – May 14 2017

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

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THE THEATRE IS THE THEATRE. THE CHARACTER IS THE CHARACTER. THE ACTOR IS AN ACTOR. THE STORY IS A STORY.

 

Great art is as multifaceted as life: sometimes perplexing, sometimes heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking. Sometimes, it is all of these things at once.

Sam Strong, Artistic Director, Queensland Theatre

 

Sam Strong’s directorial debut for Queensland Theatre is powerful, affecting, and lingering, leaving us with the essence of Michael Gow’s most recent work long after we leave the theatre, wondering, just as Professor Julius Sumner Miller did, “why is it so?” This great play hasn’t been touched since its Belvoir Street premiere (2014)…

Once In Royal David’s City is cleverly Brecht at its contemporary best. This seems an odd thing to say, because Brecht done properly is contemporary, challenging us to recognise the message in the story, and question what we see on stage, and go away and affect social change in our current contemporary context.

Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it.

Berthold Brecht

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In case you don’t know anything about Brechtian theatre though, the protagonist, a slightly disillusioned middle-aged director of theatre, Will Drummond (Jason Klarwein in his most compelling performance to date), will explain everything. You’ll also find Michael Beh’s notes in the program. It’s a style created by German director, Bertolt Brecht, so often misconstrued, and messed up in the process, making whatever tale is being told lifeless and meaningless on stage, when its purpose is to be anything but. BUT Strong’s stark and sincere production puts political theatre back on the agenda and reveals the machinations behind the boldest sort of theatrical storytelling. It’s very Brecht.

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Beautifully and simply lit by Matt Scott (the exposed lights rigged in plain sight are a work of art in themselves), an expansive stark white set by Stephen Curtis uses every inch of the stage, its depth a particular point of interest since the initial hospital scenes are staged there, as if to allow a slightly more comfortable distance between the audience and the awkward events and unbearable emotions of staying, while a loved one is lying there, quietly, patiently dying…

We will all lose – or will have already lost – a parent, and it’s something we don’t necessarily talk about. It’s one of those things we go through and we know others go through, and we send love and light and hugs and emojis in a comment thread on Facebook, and yet it remains a very personal, often very lonely experience. Once In Royal David’s City reminds us that no matter how compassionate we think we are, we can never know quite what another person feels or thinks at this time. At any time… Will is, understandably, in complete denial at first, witness to the excuses his father makes when he can no longer recognise or correctly form the words he needs, and when his mother makes excuses for him (he’s had a cold for so long!), and when she falls ill shortly after his father’s death (she’s always so tired! And her aching back!), and is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (spoiler alert!), which leads to her rapid demise during the Christmas holiday. Will is determined to make a difference in the world, and eventually, he resigns himself to teaching. His faltering confidence, after failing an actor in his company during a doomed production of The Importance of Being Earnest, a delightfully funny scene and a masterclass in posture and articulation, leads him home for a Christmas unlike any other.

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There is such beautiful attention to detail, in the nuanced performances and also, in the way Strong has pieced together the bits of story, the bits of these untidy lives and neat-as-a-pin seamless transitions, using curtains to separate the spaces on stage.

It’s a uniformly excellent cast, a terrific combination of some of our established and emerging talent; a meeting of minds and hearts and skill sets from across the companies. Joining Klarwein on stage are Penny Everingham (a beautifully transparent Jeannie), Steve Turner (Bill/Wally/Ensemble), Toni Scanlan (Gail/Ensemble), Adam Sollis (Boy/Ensemble), Kaye Stevenson (Molly/Ensemble), Adam Booth (Andrei/Doctor) and Emma Jackson (Jess/Ensemble). Each has an opportunity to shine, bringing beautifully developed fully alive characters to the story. Sollis is memorable as the boy, in a moment imbued with hope, human kindness and acceptance, and Jackson gives a very funny, very accurate depiction of a reality television star turned manufactured superstar in the Christmas Eve Carols By Candlelight lineup. Will’s disparaging remarks about the programming and the talent involved (or the lack thereof), delivered from the comfort of a green beanbag on the floor as he flicks from one channel to the next as he gradually gleans some understanding of the cancer his mum has developed, elicit sniggers, and groans of recognition and sympathy because GOW IS SO RIGHT ABOUT THAT. And so many other things. 

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The magical thing is this: it’s almost so familiar that it’s actually incredibly un-theatrical. And at the same time, it’s the most masterfully constructed and manipulated meta-theatrical work we’ve seen in several years. A must-see, Once In Royal David’s City is warm and funny, and real and alarming, and richly rewarding. It closes, appropriately, on Mother’s Day.