Farinelli and the King at the Duke of York
Having sold out on its debut run at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse earlier this year, Claire van Kampen’s re-imagining of a strange-but-true piece of history is now on at the Duke of York Theatre for a strictly limited run. Directed by John Dove and designed by Jonathan Fensom, it is an artfully crafted piece of comedy drama.
As 21st-century Londoners settling in to watch a tale that binds together the most prestigious Italian castrato in history and Filippe V, the French-born king of Spain, the audience could be forgiven for feeling out of place as they find their seats to the delicate strings of the overture. However, they are eased into the court scene through its staging in the round, on a set that is a visual feast.
Mark Rylance immediately steals the show as Filippe, with laughter pealing from the stalls as the king seeks counsel from a goldfish, conveying his unique royal loneliness that feeds into his bipolar mood swings, sadness and insomnia. Having tried everything the medical world had to offer in 1737, his queen Isabella seeks out Farinelli, believing in the transformative ability of music.
Farinelli holds a similarly lauded but lonely status, and the king recognises his ability as something that sets him apart, telling him to get on with “singing”, so Filippe can get on with “kinging”. The splitting of Farinelli’s role into the man (Sam Crane) and the voice (Iestyn Davies) echoes the king’s bipolar condition but also emphasises how music transcends the human and enters into the divine, illustrated literally as Davies commands the stars to come down from the sky with a wave of his hand.
Hopeful and human, Farinelli and the King contains some of the most beautiful arias ever written and is worth seeing for this reason alone.
Farinelli and the King is on at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 14th September until 5th December 2015, for further information or to book visit here.