King of Hearts

Alistair Beaton
A Hampstead Theatre and Out of Joint production
Salisbury Playhouse and touring
(2007)

Production photo

Alistair Beaton’s royal satire King of Hearts, by Out Of Joint from Hampstead Theatre and Sonia Friedman Productions, comes as something of a shock to the Wiltshire audiences at Salisbury Playhouse.

Notwithstanding their recent encounter with the black and white language of the terraces in Roy Williams’s Sing Her Heart Out For the Lads, this foray into the modern nomenclature of royals and politicians still appears to catch them, several times, unawares.

Which is by no means to assume that Playhouse audiences in successive weeks are always of a kind. A play which seems, however erroneously, to be about football will not attract the same audience as one which promises, again mischievously, to be about the Royal Family. And I have no doubt that, however cool this Wiltshire house my be towards football, there is no doubting their popular allegiance to the Royal Family.

The gasps of horror which reverberate around the theatre at the tasteless suggestion that a ride along a Paris ring road might be a way of eliminating an undesirable heir to the throne spoke volumes for the loyal sentiments of this audience!

Nor is this the only moment when Mr Beaton’s text falls on stony ground. Had these jibes been against the political characters on stage, they might have been received with the same laughter that greets smart quips on The News Quiz. As it is, not even the thin disguise of the princes as Richard and Arthur can disguise the fact that these two are none other than Wills and Harry – otherwise, why are we in the theatre at all?

Perhaps the real trouble with this production, smartly co-directed by Ramin Gray and the distinguished Max Stafford-Clark, is that the casting and performances are altogether too convincing. Wills – sorry, Richard (Ben Righton) is a good-looking articulate young man whose troublesome relationship with the attractive-but-Muslim princess, Nasreen (Zahra Ahmadi) has set up another pre-war abdication crisis. His younger brother Arthur (Christian Brassington), the alternative candidate for the throne, is hooked on liquor and drugs and having a good time. So unfair but, alas, “plus ça change ”

As for the Prime Minister (Justin Salinger) and the opposition leader (Jeff Rawle), it’s hard to remember which is which – and what are they both doing closeted around the ailing king’s death chamber anyway?

Full marks also to Alister Cameron (sic), a splendid royal aide, and to Roddy Maude-Roxby, a totally convincing archbishop who occasionally remembers where he is!

And there’s also a nicely insane press-officer from Anthony O’Donnell.

The production moves to Hampstead Theatre from 28 February until 31st March and is at Liverpool Playhouse from 3rd until 7th April.

Philip Fisher reviewed this production at Hampstead

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole