REVIEW: The Old King

Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House

Part of London Mime Festival

22nd January 2013

When confronted with the title The Old King, ideas of grandeur, majesty and pomp seem to take the fore. However, these connotations could not be more incoherent when describing Les Ballets C de la B’s work at the Linbury Studio Theatre of the Royal Opera House.

This piece certainly illustrates how flexible and mind bending Romeu Runa is as a physical theatre performer when he portrays the last man standing in a world that is about to end. Dramaturgically however, there appear to be major gaps in the narrative of the piece; one section ends and the next begins, with almost no purpose behind the movement whatsoever. An example of this can be seen at the very end of the production when the nearly nude performer goes from taking an Evita like stance on top of six wooden plinths to completely stripping off, pinning his face to the floor and shuffling back stage on his hands and knees. As individual moments they can’t help but captivate an already intrigued audience but as pieces of theatre they can only be described as haphazard and abnormally unique.

In this bare-all performance the actor loses all inhibitions in order to portray the emotion of the piece but the disturbing nature of the choreography is certainly not for the faint hearted. Runa is at one point seen to place a plant pot down his underwear and goose-march around the stage to the sounds of gamelan tribal music, revealing too much but defining very little. It is almost as if the audience have been invited to attend a lecture explaining the deterioration of this character’s mental health, giving this as a final example.

The bare set design recreating a black abyss with, for the most part, only a solitary wooden island downstage and a wooden tower block to the side is certainly poignant and adds to the ideas of desperation and depression that the creators are trying to get across. Yet, you cannot help but feel that the black bin liner type material that is covering the entirety of the stage is purely there to act as a waterproofing device for the Linbury Studio rather than as an integral aesthetic and creative decision.

As a part of the International Mime Festival and a creation by such a highly successful theatre company I cannot help but have hoped for a more creative narrative from the piece. However, the shapes and contortions thrown by Romeu Runa cannot be frowned upon and if physical theatre is your number one love, I am sure there will be at least one section of this visibly painful creation that you will be able to enjoy for its artistic quality.

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