Monday, December 18, 2017

My Review of Farinelli and the King

Farinelli Charms the King and the Audience


Farinelli and the King, now at the Belasco, is a wonderous play. It is slightly magical, beautiful musically, a little funny and utterly charming without being twee. By way of ingenious use of staging, candlelight and proscenium build out, the Belasco feels intimate, although I would avoid the balcony for this show.
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Mark Rylance plays the King of Spain who suffers from delusions and depression. The show opens with Mr. Rylance having a discussion with a goldfish, a moment he can’t distinguish between dream or nightmare. The audience can feel the weight of his position in the soliloquy. As King he is as trapped in his role as the goldfish is trapped in the bowl.
Farinelli (Sam Crane), left, and King Philippe V (Mark Rylance
Mr. Rylance is once again charming in a period role. He can transition from funny to enraged to incompetent in a flash. The Queen (a lovely tempered Melody Grove) wants to help her King recover and keep the monsters, imagined and real, at bay.  The royal court, embodied by Edward Pell as his chief minister – in over the top outfits and wigs, but a measured performance, are ready to force the King to abdicate. The chief minister dispatches the Queen to take over the court.
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In London, the Queen hears the Opera star Farinelli, and is convinced that his voice will help to stabilize the King. When Farinelli does arrive and sing, the moment is transformative. Watching the King listen to the music the audience can see the beauty and calmness spread across his face, and the relaxation in his carriage. Farinelli is played by Sam Crane in a touching performance as he grows to love the King and the Queen. Farinelli is sung, marvelously, by Iestyn Davies (or the equally sublime James Hall). During the moments of song, the actor and the singer concurrently playing Farinelli: they dress the same, and Mr. Crane follows the singer’s lead in demeanor and gesture.
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Farinelli joins the King and Queen both in court and later when they take up residence outside Madrid. The King is able to recuperate, and Farinelli drops his mask as performer to embrace his full personality. Of course, Kings have responsibilities, and their time away from court must come to an end, but it was a moment that was precious to the three and a joy to watch.
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Farinelli and the King feels like a momesnt captured in amber, a bit dreamy and otherworldly in the best possible sense. Director John Dove gives the play room to grow organically from the actors involved. Jonathan Fensom’s designs enhance the feeling of being let in on a small secret performance. I am not an Opera fan, but Mr. Davies’ performance of Handel’s pieces are like small presents from the past to us today.
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Farinelli and the King | Playwright: Claire van Kampen| Director: John Dove | Cast: Mark Rylance, Sam Crane, Melody Grove, Huss Garbiya, Colin Hurley, Edward Pell, Iestyn Davies, James Hall

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