Cottesloe (National Theatre)
Where: West End
7 July 2003 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews The brief title of Nick Dear's new play contains the one quality that is, unfortunately, lacking in it. It has intrigue, humour, research, character and conviction as it opens a theatrical window onto a historical past; but there doesn't seem to be any particular urgency to why we're being told this story now. Power
Maybe it's sufficient that it's the theatrical equivalent of a historical page-turner, namely a scene-changer (there are 19 in all), to provide an entertaining enough canter through the machinations of the court of Louis XIV, 'The Sun King' of France.
Starting at the beginning of his reign in 1661, it follows him in both private and state matters. On the personal front, there are his tangled romantic liaisons, having an affair with his brother's wife (daughter of the executed Charles I of England) but then falling for her virginal maid when she's conscripted as a decoy. But the core of the drama concerns how he is forced to deal with a supposedly loyal courtier, Nicholas Fouquet, who is in fact defrauding the treasury and amassing a private army.
Mr Dear has entertainingly swotted up these events for us, and translated them into an appealing colloquial, contemporary language along the way, but it's difficult to dispel the feeling that you could find out as much by reading an essay on the subject.
It's a pitfall that this genre of factual history play often falls prey to. Alan Bennett managed to avoid it in
The Madness of King George III, partly by humanising the king and partly thanks to the deeply human performance by the late Nigel Hawthorne in the title role. On the other hand, a later National play, Nick Stafford's Battle Royal, was far more clunky as it charted the loveless forced marriage of George III's son, the Prince Regent, and Princess Caroline of Brunswick.
is neither as good as the first nor as bad as the second, and hugely helped by the work of the two Lindsays: director Power Lindsay Posner marshals a busily cinematic script by stripping the stage back, with a Donmar Warehouse-like simplicity in Christopher Oram's design, to an imposing, back wall of burnished copper, while Robert Lindsay gives a flamboyantly appealing performance as Fouquet.
But in a company where everyone is beautifully individualised, there are also striking contributions from
Rupert Penry-Jones as the king, Jonathan Slinger as his hilariously affected brother Philippe, Barbara Jefford as their gorgon-like mother, Stephen Boxer as the courtier who uncovers the fraud, Geraldine Somerville as Philippe's wife and Louis's mistress, and Hattie Morahan as the maid turned lover of the king.
- Mark Shenton
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