I had an inkling that with this being set in The Swan Theatre it was not going to be a traditional rendition of King John and I was bang on there: Pippa Nixon opened the show as the gender-switched Bastard armed with a Ukulele and a sing-along version of Land of Hope and Glory against a backdrop of giant balloons confined in netting.
From that unexpected opening onwards the play struck a fantastic balance between gutturally portrayed tragedy and random moments of bizarre genius that ranged from a wedding dance including the routine from Dirty Dancing – “do the lift, do the lift,” they chanted, and lo they did it – to King John’s demise-by-poison which included a brilliantly choreographed and performed dance to Madcon’s Beggin’. That of course came some time after John’s karaoke style Say a Little Prayer for Me which blew me away.
So certainly not traditional in any Shakespearean sense but it was a great show and I found myself at alternate moments laughing out loud at the hilarious party scenes and then chilled to the bone by the serious elements of the play and the strength of the performances, particularly those of the young Arthur and his mother.
The play lasted nearly three hours but it seemed to fly by, which I think is an indication of just how good it was. After the interval things kicked off with a bang, literally, which I wasn’t quite expecting but enjoyed nonetheless, as giant confetti burst from the gallery to cover the stage/floor and the balloons were released from their confines as you can see in the photo. It meant the second half of the play was set against a moving stage – the roaming balloons were kicked around in temper and used for emphasis, the confetti added a little more disco and the whole thing had the sense of a psychedelic 3d trip, a cultural pill with Shakespeare’s words stamped on it and an express train to run you through them.
Alex Waldmann as King John and Pippa Nixon unquestionably stole the show, delivering powerful and physical performances that were captivating throughout. Many a time I found myself leaning over the railing from the gallery to get a closer view, anxious not to miss anything. When the Dauphin appeared next to me to deliver a series of lines it cemented how perfect this performance space was for this off the wall interpretation of the play.
I could go on but I really struggle to translate the feelings I’m left with into a prose blog. I would be better armed with a blank wall, a set of spray cans and a ghetto blaster.