If political intrigue, double dealing, and behind the scenes scheming and back stabbing are your thing then a trip to the lovely and intimate space that is the Union Theatre in Southwark to see King John should be right up your street.
This little performed play by William Shakespeare is the story of a monarch who will do whatever it takes including lie, murder, betray his nearest and dearest and go to war, to strengthen his ever-weakening grip on the Kingdoms of France and England.
His claim to the throne in both countries is tenuous at best. His two elder brothers are dead, but across the channel, young Arthur, the son of his elder brother, survives and is attracting a growing following and presenting something of a threat.
With all the typical Shakespearean ingredients of war, marriage, political negotiations, murder, and excommunication, we watch as King John tries, ultimately in vain, to retain power.
To complement the dark overtones of the plot, the set is dark and minimal with nothing more than four small square tables and a couple of chairs which depict everything from a deathbed to a throne, a battlefield to a castle.
The cast continue this colour theme wearing heavy duty boots and armour breast plates under dark grey or black heavy duty trench coats.
With a minimal set it is left to the actors to bring the dialogue to life and they do so very well.
King John is brilliantly portrayed by Nicholas Osmond. He shows us a man who is a complex and frightening mix of extreme cunning, manipulation and cowardice, often behaving like a petulant child desperate to get what he wants and keep it at any cost.
In the end he is consumed by corruption and greed, and veers towards the slightly mad and eccentric as he sees his power and life ebbing away.
Even in death though, he clings on to the crown so much so that Philip the Bastard has to climb astride him to positively rip it from his grip.
Other stand-out performances from this top notch cast include Samantha Lawson who is brilliant as Arthur’s devoted but intense and angry mother Constance.
Rikki Lawton’s dynamic and energetic Philip the Bastard is a firebrand and hot headed man who starts out enthusiastically supporting King John but ends up becoming frustrated and fed up by his King’s actions.
There are also some great touches including the unforgettable scene when Hubert (John Last) has to kill Arthur (Albert de Jongh) and gets out the blow torch, and the scene towards the end where King John, haunted by the ghosts of those he has killed, sees them dance a waltz around him.
This is a great production full of drama and humour and is recommended.
King John at the Union Theatre.
Box Office: 0207 261 9876
204 Union Street, Southwark. SE1 0LX
Until Saturday, February 11
Tickets £18, concessions £15