There is no doubting that The Royal Hunt of the Sun is an ambitious project for any company to undertake. The word ‘epic’ would seem appropriate. Credit has to go to the student team that has brought their vision of Shaffer’s retelling of the conquest of Peru to the Playhouse stage.
The question that nags me is whether the play itself was worth the effort.
It is a very wordy script and surprisingly light in dramatic tension. It is a play that requires both spectacle and nuanced philosophical debate about culture, religion and society. For my taste, it is a text that lacks drive and emotion – and as a result I find it a slightly sterile experience.
Director Charlotte Beynon and her team have worked hard to create the necessary spectacle – providing the audience with some bold stage pictues. On the whole this is very successful – the use of chains is particularly striking. The lighting design is also outstanding – one of the best I have seen in the venue (and I include professional work in that). The score (composed and conducted by Will Stuart) is similarly excellent.
I have reservations about some of the design choices – the head-dress for the Inca King in the first act completely obscures his face and prevents the actor from fully engaging with his character. The pile of gold created in the prison cell seems somewhat over-designed and fails to capture the wonder that this scene should represent.
I admire the effort and dedication of the team in bringing this project to fruition – there is much to applaud. However the production does not fully reconcile the different needs of the script and as a result the audience is left admiring the gold leaf rather than the play.