I was fortunate enough to step into a seat for the sold-out season of this play when my Belvoir St Theatre-subscribing friend C’s friend C was too ill to make it. How lucky was I? Geoffrey Rush on stage in Eugene Ionescu’s absurdist farce on mortality.
I can’t disagree with any of the gushing about Rush’s performance as King Berenger. He was mesmerising throughout. I hadn’t been aware that he studied mime and theatre with LeCocq in Paris but it explains a great deal about his immensely vital physicality and how finely he can shade his physical emphasis to highlight the decay of the dying King. Some of his “bits of business” were pure vaudevillian cant, including perfect pratfalls. One of the astounding features of both Ionescu’s script (co-translated by Rush and director Neil Armfield) and Rush’s performance is that these frivolities only emphasised the inner dignity of the character towards the end.
The rest of the cast, the set design, the lighting and sound design rose to match the occasion as well. Neil Armfield is to be congratulated for his direction coordinating all these elements so seamlessly. I found the final section, where the King casts off the surreal dregs of his rulership and surrenders to the inevitability of death, to be particularly well served by having Gillian Jones (Queen Marguerite) cease the theatrical vocal projection of her icy haughtiness and drop to a quiet warmth amplified via throat mic to lovingly guide the King to the moment of release.
Many details of this play passed by my memory, because it is more an occasion to experience than a story to analyse. There are deeply felt moments of shock, outrage, pathos and disgust amongst the absurdities and jokes, but the gale sweeps by so rapidly on to the next deconstruction of the King that each can hardly be absorbed. It is the totality of the demonstration of the futility of raging against death that lingers, and the visual delights of certain interactions on the stage.
The current season (Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney, June 9-July 29) is sold out, I believe. I don’t know the plans for further touring of the play, if any. But this is one of the best performances I have seen in years, not just for Rush’s celebrity and ability but for the attention to detail in every aspect of the production. Catch it if you can.
Categories: arts & entertainment