Anyone who has been to a show by local theatre company Slingsby knows that they create magical, intelligent and whimsical theatre for audiences young and old. So it’s with high expectations that I head into their latest show, for the Adelaide Festival, Oscar Wilde’s The Young King.
Lovingly adapted by Nicki Bloom, the story tells of a young king the night before his coronation. Growing up unaware of his royal heritage and returned to take the throne, we’re shown the twists and turns of his family history and share his joy at the finery he’ll be given for the ceremony. However, as the night goes on, the young king discovers the price others have had to pay for the luxuries he covets, and he must choose between maintaining the status quo or acting on his conscience.
From the get-go, the experience is intimate and immersive. Held in the former Dazzeland in the Myer Centre, we’re greeted by a courtier who escorts us to the kingdom – a corridor-lined space created by black drapes. We’re taught rules, assigned roles, entrusted with secrets and led to craft tables to create our personal crowns (which becomes a kind of ritual, marking our passage from the outer world to Slingsby’s realm). We’re then ushered into the intimate theatre space, where the young king (Tim Overton) awaits us.
Wendy Todd’s seemingly simple set is cleverly designed to transport us into the fairytale world of old kingdoms, ancient forests, and insightful dreams. Overseen by executive producer Jodi Glass and director Andy Packer’s trademark whimsical and wonder-inducing style, and coupled with Geoff Cobham’s sparse yet effective lighting, the scene is set for the magical journey ahead. Shadow puppetry, intimate lighting, smoke effects and scent are used to feed our imaginations, as is the achingly beautiful musical score by Quincy Grant.
Overton shines as the young king, exuding innocence and warmth, and his more powerful scenes near the end are tear-inducing. He is joined by veteran actor Jacqy Phillips, who is mesmerising in her various roles, transforming in an instant into characters as diverse as the scary old king and free-spirited princess to a whole crowd of townspeople and a painfully outraged Avarice (in one of the more dramatic dream sequences, taking on Overton’s smug Death).
Slingsby has never been a company to shy away from dark themes. Greed, selfishness, death, slavery and the price others pay for our luxuries are all explored. Slingsby grabs the heart of the fairy tale structure – with all its darkness and danger interwoven with joy and wonder – to take us through a full range of emotions before the ultimately uplifting climax.
As the show ends, we’re in for a final surprise, mixing cast and audience – something that Slingsby sees as being an important part of the theatre experience – so make sure you don’t have to rush off.
My expectations were not only met, but exceeded by this beautiful show. I was left feeling that not only had I experienced something truly special, but that the world is a better place for having a company like Slingsby in it.
First published on Currant magazine blog.