Review: Exit The King

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.

There’s some comprehensive reviews of his performance available. [The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Stage Online]

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.

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6 replies

  1. A friend and I managed to snaffle front frow seats for the preview screening, was great, we had water and adlibs spat at us and I nearly got kicked in the head by the man himself. Excellent.

  2. Envying you being that close, Leinad. It must have been somewhat overpowering, in the best way.

  3. good review tigs!
    i got a freebie as well. (with free parking & drinks chucked in. gotta love that.)
    so easy to gush about rush….
    there are times when you just know that ‘this is it’ – it’s as good as it gets. ie. there is no finer acting going on anywhere else on the planet tonight – on the same level yes, but not better.
    what a privledge to watch him run the gamut from ageing sleazy ocean boiler, to senile everyman.
    great translation/great direction/great production.
    And Julie Forsyth as the maid – cherry on top for mine! (that little leg kick/curtsy..funnee)
    Leinad – i’m sure you meant the preview performance not screening. yr still excited!

  4. not sure about the privledge….it was a top seat in the third row!?
    but definitely privileged. 🙂

  5. If Rush had not been in this self indulgent piece it would bomb. Cultural cringe at its best – with Rush – oh sublime – without him – its 101 theatrics at is most basic. Discordant, uneven, laughable, boring. My mind wandered, as it needed to, to the Ab Fab episode where Patsys mother was dying “OH JUST DIE” she finally screams. My thoughts exactly.

  6. Harsh, Phil, very harsh. Absurdist theatre always has a self-indulgent and discordant streak – that’s the genre. It’s hard to fault the production for doing what the playwright intended.
    Lots of people can’t stand absurdist theatre though. Fair enough.

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