Farinelli and the King tells the story of history's most celebrated castrato (acted by Sam Crane), who left a life of standing ovations in London's opera houses to become the private performer and confidante of King Philippe V of Spain (Mark Rylance).
As the music soothes the King's troubled, unstable mind and gives him a new lease of life, the singer becomes a crucial crutch and forgoes his own life to support that the Spanish royal family. Van Kampen illuminates this historical tale of unlikely friendship in a warm, entertaining play that celebrates the rousing, soulful, live-giving power of music.
As former Artistic Director of The Globe and an esteemed Shakespearean actor with numerous Oliviers and Tonys to his name, Rylance is not only a megastar of the stage, but also an expert in historically authentic performance. Unsurprisingly he completely commands the stage, provoking laughs, gasps and sympathy as he brings out the complexity of King Philippe V's mental illness. But, fittingly in the context of the play, it is the music that steals the show. The singing role of Farinelli, which is played alternately by world-renowned classical countertenors Iestyn Davies, Rupert Enticknap and Owen Willetts, sends shivers down the spine with some of the greatest arias of the 18th century.
The atmospheric candlelight of the play's premiere at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is recreated at Duke of York's Theatre, with modern spotlights replaced by a cluster of candles and music performed live on stage with authentic Baroque instruments. Inevitably some of the intimacy and authenticity is lost on the vast West End stage, but as you're greeted with live music and the warm glow of candlelight, Farinelli and the King's West End run still feels special.
It's not for everyone. There's nothing boundary-breaking or bold, and this is the kind of show that reinforces idea of theatre as pure entertainment for the middle-aged, middle-classes who know their Handel from their Hasse. But it's a warm and charming showcase of spectacular acting and musical talent.
|What||Farinelli and the King, Duke of York's Theatre|
|Where||Duke of York's Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4BG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
14 Sep 15 – 05 Dec 15, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Website||Click here to book via ATG Tickets|