Royal Shakespeare Company
King John isn’t done all that often – a good reason to see it if you haven’t seen a production of it before. But this is the third production of the play in recent years and all three have been very different from each other.
I recommend that if you don’t know the play you read a synopsis first. It can be a bit confusing as it is very political and the character of The Bastard isn’t easy to grasp at first.
I guess that each RSC production of the same play needs to be different. There are clever ways of being different and just ways of being different.
Director Eleanor Rhode clearly thought that it would be different to have a woman (Rosie Sheehy) play King John and doubly different to have an obviously female character referred to ‘he’ and ‘him’ throughout. She borrowed the idea of having a woman play the Cardinal, too, from a previous RSC production but whereas on that occasion the excellent Paola Dionisotti played the Cardinal with gravitas and dignity, Rhode makes Katherine Pearce play the Cardinal as a comic character. Another way of being different is to play the Bastard as a Scottish mixed race man who comes from Northamptonshire. Whereas the gender switch in a previous production gave rise to some interesting dynamics between King John and the Bastard, Rhode makes sure that there aren’t any. Nothing I could work out is done with the doubling of characters and it is not always clear when the actor is playing one character and when another and which.
There is some good acting. Michael Abubakar as the Bastard is good to watch throughout. Rosie Sheehy does well with an impossible and untenable brief. Charlotte Randle as Constance has some strong and effective scenes and the boys who play Arthur (I saw Gianni Saraceni-Gunnar) are very good.
It’s been a while since I have seen a production of anything which is gender blind, colour blind and doubling blind. If you enjoy this then this is the perfect production for you.
The production is also noteworthy in that every battle is done in a different way. And there are lots of costume changes.
Many of our guests at Moss Cottage have said that they have thoroughly enjoyed the production.
A Museum in Baghdad is also playing at the Swan in repertoire with King John and is well worth seeing.