A 400-year-old king (Rhys Ifans) is refusing to die. It sounds promising and above all, absolutely ridiculous, but with hit-and-miss humour, you do start to wish that he’d get on with it – ★★★☆☆
A madcap play about existentialism has the potential to be both hilariously daft and incredibly thought-provoking. At its smartest, it can raise intelligent points about life and dying. At its most bonkers, it can have Harry Potter star Rhys Ifans rolling and floundering around the stage as a crazed monarch.
In a production which is completely off the rails, it’s Ifans’ performance as the King which really stands out. Handed some impressive monologues in his role, the actor recites them with a Shakespearean air – something which is perhaps one of the play’s many jokes which isn’t quite apparent on the first try.
Other notable performances include Indira Varma’s role as the impatient Queen Marguerite, who shines in the final scenes, and Doctor Who‘s Adrian Scarborough offers most of the intriguing remarks from this production as The Doctor (no, not that one).
Outside of these three characters, the rest of the cast’s talents are wasted. Derek Griffith’s role as an over-enthusiastic royal guard revolves around the same repeated joke, while Amy Morgan plays a devoted lover that doesn’t have much to offer in terms of dialogue. Debra Gillett’s part as a nurse, although brilliantly acted, fails to pack either an intelligent or comedic punch.
Granted, absurdist comedy is very much an acquired taste, but in a weird way, there must be a method to the madness. Interesting ideas about death are raised in one of Ifans’ many poetic monologues, but the final comment towards the end of the play is lost in Eugène Ionesco’s flowery language. The great big moral of the story – the opportunity to make the underlying point far more apparent to the audience – is the final punchline. As one approaches the end of the play, one expects there to be one remark which undermines the sentimentally – yet it never arrives.
Slightly underwhelming in nature and with a bag full of light jokes that don’t quite land, Exit the King is missable, but sees Rhys Ifans deliver an impressive performance.
Exit the King is now playing at the Olivier Theatre until 6 October.
Production Images: Simon Annand.