Exit The King – 11 March 2020, Sheffield University Drama Studio

Review by Daniel O’ Key.

“After 400 years of ruling with vanity and laziness, King Berengers life has reached its final act. Playwright Eugène Ionesco described his work as “an apprenticeship in dying”, but don’t sharpen your guillotine just yet. It is an entertaining exploration of mortality, that is as comic as it is sobering. Director Hélèna Langfield has successfully modernised the script for SUTCO’s audience: through deft staging, an excellent cast and humorous dialogue changes.

As the curtains open, before the titular monarch sits on his gorgeous ivory throne, we are informed by his long-suffering wives that he has 68 minutes left to live. We follow King Berengers journey towards accepting his fate: from his denial over the loss of his universe-bending powers, to his anger at his mortality, his pining for the centuries he has wasted, and ultimate resolution as he (and the universe he once ruled) fades into oblivion. Admittedly, with the play being a long one-act I wished the inevitable croaking would happen sooner. We didn’t need quite so many philosophical ego-checks to “get it”, but the cast are so likeable and well-rehearsed it’s a pleasure to watch.

Aaron Saint John rules with gravitas in the lead role. He is a surprising casting choice at first, with a broad accent and short stature that contradicts stereotypical royalty, however this makes him an even more engaging lead. His everyman appeal reminds the audience that one day, his fate will be ours. I could’ve heard a pin drop in the third act, as he drops to his knees and pleads with the audience, believing us to be the already dead, to teach him to steel himself for the end. “It’s not natural to die… because no one ever wants to.” He successfully flits from humorously pompous, to being genuinely moving.

All the of supporting cast shine, but special mention to Isla Robertson as the long-suffering Queen Marguerite. She missed no beats with her deadpan retorts to her delusional spouse, and bemoaned the existence of “vegans, goths and potheads” as Marie Antoinette would bread-stealing peasants. Miranda Richardson would be proud.

King Berengers deterioration is perfectly reflected in the staging. As his powers diminish, so does the set around him. He says it isn’t midday, and the lights brighten. He insists his sight is not failing, and the stage goes into darkness. SUTCO are a student company with a small budget, but I would’ve liked the costumes to be more refined. I felt the dialogue changes provided enough of a comic contrast with the period setting, so seeing the King in an inexpensive robe and Mike Wisowski slippers was distracting. However, I respect Langfields choices. The conflicting eras in the costume reflected the timelessness of the plays message.

After the curtains closed, I left the Drama Studio feeling fulfilled and optimistic. Not because I had seen a high-quality, well-acted production, or because a strong show makes for an easier review, but I was reminded that while death is inevitable for all of us, only by accepting it can we truly be the rulers of our own kingdoms. Encore!”

Exit The King will be performed at Sheffield University Drama Studio until Saturday 14th March. For further information and to book visit www.ticketsource.co.uk/sheffield-university-theatre-company/exit-the-king/e-voljjl

The award winning SUTCo perform four shows a semester. For further information visit www.sutco.org.

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