King John review blood and popcorn spill in riches to rags thriller – The Guardian

Posted: October 5, 2019 at 9:44 am

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Shakespeares King John is rarely performed but, on the basis of Eleanor Rhodes engrossing production for the RSC, it absolutely should be. The plot initially sounds a bit pedestrian: King John of England and the King of France battle for power, forge a tentative truce, and fight a whole lot more. But what a play this is: there are endless thrilling fights, spellbinding moments of reflection and devastating outpourings of grief. There is also a gradual erosion of belief in any sort of greater good as the divine right of kings and divinity itself fade away in the heat of battle.

Designer Max Johns has talked about approaching King John as a new play and the production tingles with a tangible sense of spontaneity. The show is loosely located in the mid 20th century but the set and costumes grow heavier and older disco lights replaced with flickering candles as the political squabbling turns deadly. There is jaunty dancing between the scenes, endless fashion parades (peaking with Katherine Pearces gold-decked Cardinal) and the mother of all food fights. Weaving everything together is David Gregorys enveloping sound design, which gradually darkens as blood begins to spill.

All these flourishes keep the energy pulsing but they also carry an important message: here is politics as performance. The connection is amplified by the fact that King John is played, brilliantly, by a woman. Rosie Sheehy portrays the King as a preening peacock, always on show when in public. When John addresses the citizens of Angers and implores them to recognise Englands authority, the crowd munches on popcorn, spectators to their own downfall.

As Johns power wanes, Rhode expertly emphasises the personal cost of politics. Charlotte Randle initially plays Constance as a crazed stage mum, but after her son is imprisoned she implodes with a grief that hollows out the theatre. Johns garments grow ever more oppressive until theyre eventually removed. All that pomp and ceremony melts away and the King is left in rags, vomiting blood in a rusty bathtub. As Philip the Bastard says: Mad world! Mad kings! Mad composition!

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King John review blood and popcorn spill in riches to rags thriller - The Guardian

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October 5th, 2019 at 9:44 am