King John at the Swan Theater by the RSC – has received raving reviews. And this one is no different. I still don’t even know the full plot of this story but I do know that originally “the bastard” is meant to be played by a man. In this production the character was clearly female (wearing a dress) and I think that changed the tone of the play. It was interesting that while all the characters remained in true Shakespearean text (though there is one sexual scene between King John and his cousin – “the bastard” – that makes me question how truly legitimate that scene was), the costumes and props were very modern day. The men wore suits – there were balloons, modern day dresses, champagne that could have been bought down the street… And yet the talent on stage managed to reconcile these differences to make a more meaningful and engaging play. Another interesting feature was the two child actors. They were really quite good. I was impressed that for their age, they were attentive, engaging, and really committed to the production. Their careers certainly are on the right path if they continue to grow into the actors they could be.
Truly, I was captivated by this performance more than any of the other Shakespeare I have seen thus far. The only close rival is Antony and Cleopatra which was riveting, but in a different way. I never expected to love historical plays, but I think partly the stories ring so much truer than the ones that are made up – the characters are based on real people and so the ability to make them feel real and relate-able is easier on an actor and on the dramatist. There are so many details I could get into but I will leave you with this: the reality of this show is what makes it so engaging from Arthur’s grief stricken mother, to the King of France’s outlandish party behavior, to the strictness (and scheming) of the pope’s advocate, to the royal maturity of the young prince and I could go on … the lords, the bastard, the mother of John to John himself. An arrogant, deceitful and spiteful, manipulative prick. We both love and hate you and which more I cannot say.
Alas, I cannot find my picture of the inside of the theater but here are some of the outside: