Saturday 20 April 2024

THE KING'S PLAYER - Theatre Review

WHAT: The King's Player
WHEN: 19 - 26 April 2024
WHERE: Alex Theatre (Studio)
WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY: Tref Gare
SCENIC ART BY: Jen Ellis Stevens

Tref Gare - Photo supplied

It is Comedy Festival season so our stages are chockers with stand up and cabaret artists, but if you look deep enough you can find some theatrical gems which are belly-achingly funny, yet taught and complex enough to please the most erudite of theatregoers. The King's Player, being presented by Victorian Theatre Company in the Alex Theatre Studio space is just such a delight.

Set in Elsinore, the King's player (Tref Gare) let's us tag along with him as he tries to find employment to feed his terrifyingly hungry belly. Along the way we learn about his dad, his willingness to imbibe in unknown substances, and his lack of knowledge of theatrical standards. We learn he is also the inventor of the single link chain much to his blacksmith father's disappointment and our great amusement.

The King's Player is having a 30 year revival and yet it seems as fresh and full of life as if it had only been devised on the rehearsal room floor last month. Early in his career, Gare trained in physical theatre and mime in Europe and then joined the touring company The Medieval Players. From these experiences he created this hilarious and insightful play. 

What surprises me, more than anything, is how an actor with this incredible level of skill in clowning and physical theatre is not appearing on mainstages regularly. We all know Tref's work featuring in the very many indie Shakespeare revivals around town such as Romeo and Juliet and As You Like It but none of these give him the scope to really show his incredible talents in the realm of physical theatre. You will know what I mean when you go and see this show. I recently said Andre de Vanny's work in Swansong was a masterclass in acting. Well Gare in The King's Player is the second in the series and every young actor in Melbourne should come and see this show to really understand what their craft is/should be.

In The King's Player Gare takes us down a maelstrom of Medieval conditions which juxtapose that Shakespearean representation of royalty. We see poverty, love, and sacrifice - things nobody in Hamlet's world seem to ever truly understand. We learn about the destitute and desperate life of a thespian in a time of plague and patronage, where the only way out is to be favoured by the monarch - a truly double edged sword as the King's player discovers for himself. Thank goodness for the magic of theatre ;) Somehow Gare has us laughing all the way!

All of this happens in just over an hour through the efforts of an indefatigable actor, naked hand puppets, and a magnificent backdrop created by Jen Ellis Stevens for the original season back in 1994. This work of art parodies the Bayeux Tapestry created back in 1077 and tells the tale of William the Conqueror's conquest of England. Stevens' 'tapestry' tells us the tale of the King's player's journey to conquer his vocation and if you look close enough, you can follow our protagonist's story as the events unfold. It made me think of the Graeme Base storybooks, and The Eleventh Hour in particular.

The King's Player is a magnificent piece of comic theatre. It has everything - canon, comedy, mime, puppetry, pathos, history, dreams, hope, hunger, starvation, panic, love... How on earth has Gare done this???? And how is it so side-splittingly funny????????

The King's Player is one of the best hours you will ever have in a theatre and this show is perfect for touring. It would be an amazing thing to take to high schools too - a great learning tool about history and theatre for those poor HSC candidates in desperate need of laughter and exposure to great contemporary art.

5 Stars


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