The wonderful whimsy of Eugène Ionesco’s Exit the King takes on a more sombre tone when you realise that Ionesco wrote the play thinking that he himself was dying. Given this, is it wild hubris to place himself in the text as a King?
Not so much, when we find as an audience that his kingdom is in fact small enough to fit on the head of a pin. As always, Ionesco’s observations on the human plight are far from pithy: he is less Wilde and more Donne, with a strong metaphysical streak running through the piece.
Director Anna Jahjah seized on this metaphysical bent in the original French text (that is missing from English translations) and runs with it, along with the more celestial aspects of the story.
The stars were certainly aligned when Jahjah assembled her cast, they are exceptional, particularly the incomparable Leof Kingsford-Smith who was stunning as King Bérenger. His unassuming appearance and costuming belies his intensity and a steely fortitude, as the King who contemplates his mortality and all that that entails.
Kirsty Jordan is also steely and rock solid as Queen Marguerite, the King’s first wife. She is a powerful anima figure – no bitter first wives club for her – as she stays by the King until the end, a powerful mix of stately and cunning. Her younger counterpart Queen Marie is played by Clay Chrighton, she is excellent, she attends to the King, with (unlike Marguerite) mindless optimism.
The simple stage was set up as a constellation of sorts, as the cast were in constant orbit around the King. All round a fantastic production, the King is dead, long live the King. Long live and hail director Jahjah, who has another triumph with this production.
Exit the King is on until 16 March and presented by Théâtre Excentrique, for more information and tickets see: http://www.theatrexcentrique.com/
Directed by Anna Jahjah, translation by Annah Jahjah and Kris Shalvey.
Featuring: Clay Cruighton, Kirsty Jordan, Leof Kingsford-Smith, Josef Schneider, Gerry Sont, and Alison Windsor.
Above Image by Mansoor Noor