Saturday, March 5, 2016

The Young King Adelaide Festival of Arts 2016

The Young King

Adapted for the stage by Nicki Bloom from the story by Oscar Wilde. Directed by Andy Packer. Composer and Musician Quincy Grant. Designer Wendy Todd. Lighting Designer Geoff Cobham. Presented by Slingsby in association with the Adelaide Festival of Arts. Dazzleland site. Level 5 atrium. The Myer Centre. Adelaide Festival of Arts 2016. February 27 – March 15.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Tim Overton as The Young King and Jacqui Phillips.


Oscar Wilde’s immortal tale of a young king’s journey to enlightenment is beautifully told by Slingsby Theatre under the sensitive and imaginative direction of Andy Packer. The production is a richly visual feast, luxuriously designed by Wendy Todd, magically lit by Geoff Cobham and atmospherically accompanied on piano and clarinet by composer Quincy Grant. Every element of this delightful production excites the eye, stirs the mind and touches the heart.  Storytellers Tim Overton as the young king and Jacqui Phillips in a variety of other roles hold the mainly school audience in the palm of their hand, enchating them with Wilde’s illuminating allegory, capturing their wide-eyed wonder with cleverly lit shadow puppetry, amazing them with Todd’s storybook  design and intriguing them with Wilde’s moral tale of life’s contradictions and injustice.
The Young King in rehearsal. Jacqui Phillips. Andy Packer.
Tim Overton and Quincy Grant
The Young King is storytelling at its most evocative.  Wilde weaves a simple thread as rich as the gold lining of the young king’s coronation gown through a tale intent on exposing the irony and injustice of a class system. Wilde would most certainly have been a left-wing Republican, which may do him great injustice. His story is a plea for an egalitarian state, free of corruption, abuse and privilege. Slingsby’s simple storytelling technique removes the mystification of fantasy to reveal through the power of theatre the cruel injustice of the revered privilege of kings.
Tim Overton as The Young King. Photo by Andy Packer

Packer uses role play to highlight the class differences in Wilde’s world. The audience is divided into groups once they arrive on the fifth level of The Myer Centre and before they enter into Dazzleland. I belonged to the rough fisher folk of the North.  We were joined by the industrious denizens of the South, the pretty prospectors of the West and the gruff forest folk of the East. In an adjoining room past a long Corridor of Secrets, Royal attendants, dressed in Bellhop costumes instructed us to make crowns for our heads before entering the performance space and being guided to the seating for our tribe. The instructions are clear: “Examine secrets that are entrusted to you.”” Look to what is inside yourself”,  and “Remember where you come from.”
And so Wilde’s allegory unfolds
Musician and composer Quincy Grant

Those who do not know the story of the young king are soon caught up in the power of the storytellers’ art. Actors Overton and Philips  are perfectly adept at unfolding the tale of a young prince, raised as a goatherd’ son, snatched back to the castle by the old king who cast out his mother and prepared for coronation. On the eve of his coronation, he is haunted by three dreams that expose the exploitation of pearl divers to collect pearls for his crown,  the slavery of those who search for the rubies for his scepter and the weavers, toiling endlessly to weave the gold lining of his coronation robes. In the morning, the young king rejects the gifts in favor of his goatherd’s garb, only to discover that the ordinary people will accept nothing but the finery of a king.
Tim Overton as The Young King and Jacqui Phillips as a weaver

Wilde’s allegory is revealed with crystal clarity in Bloom’s faithful adaptation. The sea of crowned teenage heads  gaze spellbound as the actors relate the fate of the young king, transform the scene with puppetry and weave magic in the simple telling of complex and profound moral tale.  
As the light of Heaven shines upon the wreathed head of the young king in the natural goatherd’s garb, the doors of the intricately built set slide open to reveal a vast forest of cut-out trees and the actors beckon the audience of schoolchildren to enter into Dazzleland for a Q and A with director Andy Packer. I am late for another event and leaving what would have surely been a fascinating discussion with the actors and the director, but taking with me the memory of a magical experience I leave by the service lift to the ground floor. Slingsby Theatre’s beautifully staged adaptation of Wilde’s visionary parable  has woven a spell that offers hope for a better world. It is a hope that will be carried forth by the audiences who travelled to Dazzleland to see The Young King .