Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

The Pickled King

Network of Stuff Theatre
Riverside Studios
(2003)

This is an odd piece for the Christmas season, but by odd I mean wacky and oddly original given that the material is drawn from fairytales, Renaissance revenge tragedies and sci-fi kryogenics. King Oliver, a thoroughly nice chap, much loved by his people, has been pickled in a huge jar, and left to wait for the discovery of a cure for his terminal malady: an imbalance of the humours brought about by an excess of black bile (melancholia in a Renaissance layman's terms). His malcontent son, Lord Otto the Waiting, is appointed regent, but after the pickled king's jar vanishes for a quarter of a century, the machiavellian Otto gets tired of waiting and is now plotting to be crowned. Oliver's jar is covered in dust standing on a shelf in the laboratory of Dr Abel with only a pickled baby and a Frenchman's grumpy brain for company. But something has to be done to nip the evil aspirations Otto and his co-conspirator, The Grand Deacon, in the bud. And it seems that the task of saving the kingdom from oppression will fall to Simon Ladd, poet and body snatcher to Dr Abel.

This is really fun stuff. A tight plot, plenty of laughs and some wonderful performances by the three-strong cast make for an entertaining evening. Felix Hayes as King Oliver and the wicked Grand Deacon puts his rubbery face to best use and Tom Warwick as Otto is a villain to be hissed at with enough allusions to Richard III to be fun without labouring the parody. As the Grand Deacon's side-kick Friar Dogma, he is the stooge providing light-relief from more weightier humour. Three actors play all the roles with merely an extra prop, or a hat, at hand as they glide seamlessly through transformation after transformation. And I must say that I loved the sound effects, the bubbling, gurgling, hissing and squeaking that aided our imaginations in fleshing out the action.

This is not a show for very young children, and it was slow moving in the beginning. The exposition is too long and the early jokes not quite funny enough to engage the very young. However, I can recommend it to older children and it genuinely has more than enough adult humour to please parents as well. It's a good opportunity for a family outing to that greatest of British Christmas traditions, the theatre.

Reviewer: Jackie Fletcher