Review: Silly Kings, Cardiff Castle
Published in The Telegraph, 23.12.2014
Clip-clopping coconuts, a rhotacisitic wuler named Wupert and an ogre fighting on after losing his limbs. It’s not Monty Python’s Flying Circus, no. You’ll have to wait until next July for that. However, such Pythonian trimmings betray the comic lineage behind National Theatre Wales’ first show for children.
Terry Jones’ fairy tales — written in 1981, while other ex-Pythons were off filming Time Bandits — are classically-shaped but steeped in surrealist stupidity and they’ve become firm bedtime favourites. Staging them for the first time is a smart move. Doing so inside Cardiff Castle, combining humour with heritage, is inspired.
We’re in the kingdom of King Herbert (George Fuller) and, as the title warns, he’s a very silly king indeed. He wears festive pyjamas, hides from his subjects and calls his daughter Princess Fishy (Remy Beasley). With her prospective father-in-law, the po-faced King Rupert (Stephen Casey), en route to arrange a marriage to Prince Derek, Fishy needs to cure Herbert of his folly. Only nothing seems to work.
Adaptor Katherine Chandler neatly folds other tales into this one. There are magic glass cupboards that produce whatever you want, singing butterflies and a terrible beast with a very sweet tooth — all in Ferdinand’s kingdom. One tangential adventure sees Derek incite a revolutionary uprising against a Fairy King.
All this comes peppered with Pythonesque humour: OTT accents, haddock-based beatings and squawking men in drag. Composers Patrick Dawes and Gareth King have fun too: their upbeat musical interludes include a great Beastie Boys-style rap and an ode to the world’s ungulates.
The undoubted star, however, is Jo Scotcher’s costume design: tunics and high-tops for the boys, corsets and Converse for the girls. It keeps everything fresh, but also sews these fantasies into the real world. That beast terrorising the townsfolk? He’s dressed in a biker’s leathers, with punky metal spikes for teeth.
For all the atmosphere of its gorgeous Spiegeltent, Jo Davies’ spirited production doesn’t always fill the space. Further back, children get fidgety, though the front few rows were transfixed. More could be made of Fuller’s circus skills, though the occasional bit of audience interaction gives everything a huge lift. Nonetheless, Beasley is utterly winning as Fishy, dashing but never tomboyish and holding us rapt with a gorgeous Kate Nash-style solo number. Stephen Casey pomps with relish as King Rupert and Keir Charles and Hannah McPake provide zesty tomfoolery from the chorus of knights that burst out of a white transit van.
Photograph: Farrows Creative/National Theatre Wales