EXIT THE KING
Meteor Theatre, 1 Victoria Street, Hamilton
06/12/2018 - 07/12/2018
Today is the day for the King to die, only he never stops long enough to achieve the state. Surrounded by wives, Doctors and Palace staff, he rages against the dying of the light. Whilst he has no intention of dying, the other inhabitants of the Castle are intent that he accepts his fate.
Comedy at its blackest and most absurd.
The Meteor, Hamilton
Thursday the 6th and Friday the 7th of December 2018
Price: $15 Adult, $10 Student/Underemployed
Pauline Gardener Ward
Humour in a narcissist facing grim death
Review by Jan-Maree Franicevic 07th Dec 2018
Quite a crowd is building at The Meteor for this evening’s premiere of Exit the King.
I do not profess to know a lot of the work of master absurdist Eugene Ionesco. I know that this play is the third play of four in a series, and I note from the Hamilton Fringe Programme that the play is boasted as comedy at its blackest.
I am seated with good pals and take a moment to read the programme notes we are handed at the door. I relish programme notes, and am touched by the Memoriam for Lois Livingston, who mentored this company, Mrs Worthington’s Daughters, when serving as Chair of the Hamilton Theatre Trust. I am filled with excitement and nerves when I read that Steve Gray (you may recall him from TV One’s Good Morning) is cast in the lead – playing the King. I have not seen Steve for seven years, and had no idea he was still in Hamilton, let alone treading the boards!
The lights go down and trumpets sound (I note the crafty use of a cell phone and a portable speaker). The Guard (Nathan Hancock) introduces the players, The King’s first wife Queen Marguerette (Julia Watkins), The King’s second wife Queen Marie (Pauline Gardner-Ward), The Maid Juliette (Sarah Mills), The Doctor (John McKee) and King Berenger 1 (Gray).
We are in the Throne Room. It is clear that King Berenger is unwell, he is in his striped pyjamas and crown, looking wholly ill. The Doctor appears more of a wizard, and is in close quarters with wife number one, Queen Marguerette – their exchanges are cutting and conspiring, I find I hate them both. I am forced to question why they so badly seem to want him to expire.
Queen Marie, doting second wife, is overcome with emotion and seems the only one to bring a smile to the face of our ailing lead. As far as support goes, Berenger has a faithful servant in Juliette, and The Guard is dutiful in noting the goings-on in the Throne Room.
Gray plays it all the way up throughout and displays some incredible physicality. The entire cast is well rehearsed and work together nicely. Director Dennis Ralph has assembled and guided a talented cast who certainly know their lines and their marks. This always impresses me. His production design is fitting and innovative.
The story is somewhat overtaken however by Gray’s altogether dominating performance. Berenger is narcissitic to a fault, a lot of the great humour comes from the whip-quick translation of court action into tweets fired off by The Guard (nicely played by Hancock). I enjoy the evangelical appeal The King makes to we the audience as his assembled subjects – followed by a very interesting kind of ‘laying on of hands’ ceremony. It is all definitely fun to watch, even though grim death underpins proceedings.
The King doesn’t want to die. Who does? He does represent all of us in that sense. Queen Marie is his life light, and does not wish for him to go, though she is soon to depart as he edges closer to his time. As his body shuts down, the King’s maid slips away – his protection perhaps eroded in her departure? The Doctor calls himself away, not out of fear but because his role as the sooth and scientist is all but done. So too The Guard departs the stage, no ego left to crow on social media.
So our stage becomes quite bare, and all of the humour is gone.
Wife number one, Queen Marguerette, is left alone with Berenger as he slumps in his throne. Hats off to Julia Watkins who plays a cool and emotionless ex-wife with aplomb and masterfully softens as she guides Berenger to his end. I feel it would have been easy to fall into nastiness, and as I watch her blow dust from the palm of The King’s hand I understand the great strength it takes to let someone go in their final moment.
This week I attended a public meeting on the End of Life Choice Bill, and only a fortnight ago I attended the Requiem Mass for my dear old Uncle Jim. Both events, in consideration of tonight’s performance, give me plenty to think about as I drive home. I know I have been guilty of grieving for loss of life, where selfishly I wish death had been staved off, even if for a short while. But then, therein lies the question which this play seeks to address; no matter how long we live, do we ever come to terms with the end?
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