Like a witch’s brew, the elements that make up King in Exile—a show replete with witches but, unfortunately, no cauldrons—combine to create something wholly original. This is silly, full-blown amateur dramatics, unutterably charming but lacking cohesion. Whilst its message is timely and important, its structure is confused, making this show an enjoyable but difficult experience.
Opening on a monologue by the titular King, this show wastes no time in throwing you into the deep end. Blurring the lines of fiction and reality, logic and narrative falls apart as King struggles with his estrangement from his home planet. Science fiction has always been a welcome home for metaphorical tales of humanity, but Bradley Klendo’s script fails to rise to this. There are some important messages contained within this play, mainly centring on the disconcerting effects of migration and the anger and bitterness it can leave in some, though this becomes lost in translation. Jokes fall flat, a result of the muddled internal logic. Trying to contain an allegory within a metafictional narrative is difficult, and unfortunately comes off as incomprehensible.
It is the performances that really make this play. Sahil Saluja is a standout as the problematically-named Arab, giving just enough humour whilst providing a welcome real-world standpoint, through which the play can explore its themes. Leigh Ormsby as the Antagonist uses his body terrifically in a very physical performance. The three witches (Lisa Dallinger, Eva Torkkola and Danae Swinburne) are an absolute delight, making much of their absurdity inherent in their characters. Dallinger in particular is excellent, taking on three separate roles with aplomb. Her understanding of comedy is fine, giving her witch character and dominatrix Jacqueline the right amount of ridiculousness, whilst retaining these features and combining it with real anxiety for her role as the Playwright’s partner. Both Thomas Kay as King and Alex Rouse as the Playwright are satisfactory, although there is a dynamism missing in their performances.
The direction by Vlady T is outstanding. He makes great use of the space—characters spill in and out of the three entrances in random patterns, creating a completely absurd experience. In addition, there are some extremely potent scenes. When Arab gives his traditional greeting to the theatre, it is met with awkward laughter from an audience unable to pronounce it. Moments such as this, which catch the audience off-guard and highlight western society’s difficulty in interacting with other cultures, lend this play a greater worth. Where it miscarries is in its attempt to fuse two different forms together. This witch’s brew, whilst perhaps still too raw to be fully understood, is an enjoyable and well-timed piece of home-grown theatre.