The King and Queen of the Universe

Thu 15th – Fri 23rd August 2013

reviews

James Bell

at 20:12 on 22nd Aug 2013

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‘The King and Queen of the Universe,’ adapted by Tom Powell from Kurt Vonnegut’s short story of the same name, tells the story of Anne (Georgia Wagstaff) and Henry Davidson Merill (Sam Curry), young lovers who are out on a midnight stroll when they meet Stanley Karpinsky (Jack Gamble) and their lives are irrevocably changed. The production is slick, fast paced and extremely professional, all of which combines to produce a show of the highest quality.

The cast were truly superb, and it was obvious that all had worked on perfecting even the most minor aspects of their characterisation, a level of detail which was extremely pleasing to watch. Jack Gamble, in particular, embodied the isolated idealist desperate to prove his worth to his mother with seemingly effortless aplomb, and Lauren Waldren as Mrs Karpinsky cut to the emotional heart of her character within seconds of appearing on stage. The attention to detail in what is a very pared down production was astonishing. The Karpinskys spoke Polish when they were alone, for example, and it was refreshing to see real tears from many of the performers when so many productions rely on overblown theatrics to get their point across.

But all of this was only made possible by a sparkling script from Powell. In fact, before I came to research this review I presumed that Vonnegut had penned it himself. The show contained a few scenes of such emotional intensity that I was struck dumb, overcome by the naked power of what I was witnessing. The moment around which the entire plot revolves, for example, was expertly handled, as was the scene of the lovers’ final parting. The mastery of the stage really was a delight to watch.

As exceptional as this show was, I did have a few reservations. Most noticeably, there was the odd moment of insecurity from the cast. The opening dancing scene, for instance, felt a little forced and, before the play got into full swing, I felt that Curry was not fully comfortable in his role. The production’s rather abrupt ending left me a little puzzled as well, but, in general, this is a stunningly well conceived and well executed show that deserves to reach a much wider audience.

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Marnie Langeroodi

at 13:40 on 23rd Aug 2013

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The Depression has hit, but the young upper-classes don’t know it yet. Two lovers are dancing on stage as the audience take to their seats. The costume and fashions harken to the Roaring Twenties, but, as the play later divulges, the good times are over. This play, based on Kurt Vonnegut’s short story, explores the wealth gap in society in this historical turning point.

Georgia Wagstaff and Sam Curry play the lovers with great chemistry and their relationship is eminently believable. When Henry suggests a walk through the park at night, we question his intentions, but it is not him we should be concerned about. Wagstaff and Curry create an eerie mood, successfully transforming the stage into a threatening environment through their dialogue and expressions. The mood becomes tense very quickly when Stanley (Jack Gamble) makes an appearance.

The play is exceptional at building and maintaining tension. When we are introduced to Stanley, it is a long time before we are told who he is and what he wants. Once we learn his backstory, his mother’s illness gives the play a sense of limited time and urgency. All the characters' backstories add needed depth; Henry's life parallels Stanley's because of his own mother’s illness, but, significantly, Henry complains of feeling no affection for his mother. His detachment supposedly reflecting the uncaring nature of the upper class, but simultaneously, his fear of what he is becoming. This validates his concerns about turning into his father, and explains his strong reaction to the events of the play.

The use of lighting and sound is commendable. The light-hearted music during the scene changes contrasts to the dark seriousness within each scene, reflecting the extreme contrasts in society. Lighting is used to control the action when the stage is split, effectively directing the audience’s attention. The staging is visually stimulating, particularly when two conversations are going simultaneously, using freeze-frame to fluctuate between each. This goes some way to break up the long conversations. However, the intense emotion of the play does continue without any kind of relief scene after scene, which does become exhausting.

This was a well-executed performance from a strong cast. Although the themes aren’t anything new, and this particular time period is, admittedly, much over-done, the play is enjoyable and well worth seeing.

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