The Duke at the Royal CourtCultureTheatre
Sat at a table full of audio equipment, and bearing a very slight resemblance to Marc Maron, Shôn Dale-Jones looks rather more like he’s about to record a podcast than perform a one-man show.
Taking a quote from filmmaker Luis Buñuel concerning the minor relative difference between fantasy and reality as a motto, The Duke is essentially a semi-autobiographical adventure story told from memory. The tale unfolds as Dale-Jones’ initial delight at interest from a Hollywood producer in the script he’s been labouring over for a decade is tempered by their insistence that he implement a long list of jarring adjustments to it. When a phone call from his mother concerning a broken family heirloom stirs deep reflections on mortality and loneliness, he decides to place his artistic dilemma and the rapidly approaching deadline on the back burner and embark on a cross-country odyssey.
Full of charm and amusing comedy characters, the caper makes for a pleasant hour in the company of a likeable storyteller, but also for a muddled and ultimately lightweight piece of theatre. Music and sound effects, which Dale-Jones cues himself (“for budgetary reasons”), are so often mishandled as to detract from, rather than embellish, the plot, and the purpose of a sporadically employed microphone is never clearly established. Occasional lapses into improvisation are also patchy affairs, often spotlighting the performer’s nervousness at going off-script as much as his off-the-cuff humour.
Offering the show to audiences at no cost with the suggestion that they instead donate to Save The Children’s refugee fund, Dale-Jones is undoubtedly making an admirable gesture. Beyond that appeal, however, his attempts to connect his narrative with the current real-world crisis are distractingly heavy-handed. Breaks from an essentially comic yarn for cloying introspection add to the unbalanced feel of the piece.
Though it falls short of the weightier of its stated thematic targets, The Duke remains a diverting enough rumination on family and creative frustration, while also presenting a unique way of supporting a very worthy cause.
The Duke was at the Royal Court from 28th November until 2nd December 2016, and is at The Barbican from 15th until 17th December 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch a preview of The Duke here: