In King David, Man of Blood, Fraser Grace has written a literary as well as a literate play. That’s not necessarily a bad thing and it’s one with a fine pedigree. The outline of the Old Testament story is a familiar one and Grace centres his drama on the middle period of David’s life when youthful heroism is settling into an edgy majesty. The human interest evolves from David’s wooing of Bathsheba (here Bethsebe) but this is wrapped round in the wider aspect of David’s relationship with God. And with his fellow men.
As in classical drama, much of the action is carried forward in two-person exchanges. As in medieval theatre, God and Lucifer appear on stage. As in the mid-20th century plays of Anouilh and Giraudoux, questions of modern political and personal morality are presented in the framework of a past era. It all requires very good speaking as well as visual coherence. This doesn’t always happen though the large cast performs with commitment as well as understanding.
Although their parts are subsidiary to those of the men both Clare Humphrey as Bethsebe and Kristen Hutchinson as David’s senior wife Abigail deliver credible characterisations. The former is moving in the loss of first her innocence and then her child and the latter radiates authority. Ignatius Anthony is Nathan, the prophet turned politician, Marshall Griffin has authority as the ambitious general Joab and Roger Delves-Broughton makes advisor Ahithopel into a man whose time has now passed – and so bitterly resents it.
Director Dee Evans keeps it all in a bit of a whirl while designer Sara Perks has devised a multi-level acting area dominated by the central image from the Michelangelo Creation fresco. Andrew Neil’s God is a no-nonsense sort of chap with Christine Absalom as his female counterpart, a sort of Zeus and Hera transposed to monotheism. There’s a delicious wicked double by Tony Casement as Lucifer and the oh-so-helpful if slightly slimy servant Cusay and Delroy Brown makes Uriah into a credible officer, the one person in the drama who is perfectly honourable and straightforward.
In the title role David Tarkenter projects the successful warrior and authoritative ruler with some vehemence but his voice sounded strained and at times monotonous. We need to be swept up in the words, not just coasting along with them, and in this Tarkenter, for me, failed. It’s easy to understand how David might have made his own blood and sexual lusts so apparently conformable to God’s will and purpose. But you have to empathise with the man as well as the king and the general if the story is to be a true tragedy and more than just a tale of violence and betrayal in a disputed territory.