I was beyond thrilled to be invited back to Rose Theatre Kingston for the press night of their latest play, a rendition of Shakespeare's King John*. I've loved the venue ever since I first visited last year, it's modern and spacious both inside the auditorium and outside towards its picturesque surroundings, situated along the river and miles away from the hustle and bustle of London. I was completely unfamiliar with the history of King John but after a bit of background research discovered that Shakespeare's play is basically a dramatic retelling of his reign over England and apparently it's rarely staged compared to his other works. Rose Theatre's version is directed by Trevor Nunn and stars Jamie Ballard as King John and Howard Charles (who you might recognise from the TV series The Musketeers) as Philip Faulconbridge.
The ever-present dispute between the English and French in the play begins when the French ambassador delivers the message that King John is required to surrender his crown to their Prince Arthur (son of John's elder brother Geffrey). King John refuses and the French declare a war between them. Soon after, the king resolves an argument about inheritance between two brothers, in which he discovers the elder, Phillip, is a bastard and the illegitimate son of King Richard I. King John knights Phillip and he becomes quite the loyal right hand man, one of action and initiative whilst the king is seen to be more foolish and uncertain. Many arguments passed between the French and the English, even a few wars break out, and not gonna lie, I started to zone out a little, though this could well be contributed to the fact that I was powering through the flu and the hour was late. Whilst the play progressed slowly through it's rather lengthy three hour duration, it explored some interesting political themes, mainly in betrayals versus collaborations between seemingly opposing sides.
As usual, I'm in awe at all the strong performances within the cast. For me personally, it's the make or break for a Shakespeare play seeing as I'm not that well-versed on the subject, things can get tedious pretty quickly. Luckily in King John, both the main actors commanded the stage brilliantly, Jamie Ballard managed to make me pity the ultimately lousy king, whilst Howard Charles cast a great hero figure as Phillip/Richard. The entire cast were pretty darn good really, I was particularly impressed by Lisa Dillon who portrayed Prince Arthur's mother, she conveyed that maternal love so powerfully, even through stages of madness and grief. Prince Arthur himself was played by Sebastian Croft, who I had just seen as a young Ned Stark in the latest season opener of Game of Thrones. He's definitely one to watch, the youngest of the ensemble cast yet he had no trouble acting against the others, blending in seamlessly.
King John's reign ends quite tragically as is not quite a surprise with Shakespeare. Despite the inevitable feeling of forthcoming doom, the play was lightened with some laugh out loud moments, however dark the comedy. The set and costumes were amazing, with so much detail going into the medieval garments and props. I love the large stage at Rose Theatre, along with the spacious and modern auditorium. It makes you feel less cooped up compared to theatres in the West End and the seats are exceedingly wide and comfy. I'd definitely recommend this production of King John if you're a Shakespeare fan as it's one that you don't really come across all too often being brought to life on stage. Also, if you've never visited Rose Theatre or the town of Kingston for that matter, you definitely should, it's only a 20 minute train ride away from central London and it's such a lovely, quaint little area. Rose Theatre has certainly become one of my favourite theatre venues and I'm looking forward to returning in the near future for some more exciting productions.
To end with a funny little side story, before the play I met up with one of my best friends who lives in Kingston. We were sitting at a restaurant nearby when Howard Charles literally walks in to order some tea. It was such a coincidence and we explained to him that we were going to see his play that evening and were surprised to see him here out of all places and he agreed and laughed at what a chance meeting it was. He then proceeded to ask me if my hair was real, a question that was then repeated again in a couple of hours by Rob Sheehan, who I met briefly in the foyer of the theatre as he'd just seen the play as well. I found it quite hilarious as my hair is most definitely real. Speaking of, I think this might actually be the debut of my fully blue hair on this blog. I'm sure you've all seen it if you follow me on my other social media platforms but as I was a little behind on my blog posts, it had yet to make an appearance. In all honesty, I just got bored with my dip dye one day and decided to extend the colour all over my entire head. It was a DIY job actually and I'm thinking of writing a post on the whole process of turning black hair into a bright fantasy colour as well as maintenance and aftercare if this was something you lovely lot would be interested in? Anyway, do let me know in the comments below.
King John is at Rose Theatre Kingston until the 5th of June 2016. More information and tickets can be found here.
*Complimentary tickets to the play were provided by Rose Theatre but all opinions, thoughts and love for theatre are my own.