King of England (1988): Theatre Royal, Stratford East
PrKing of England (1988)
PRINCIPAL CAST: Paul Barber (Stevie); Claire Benedict (Susan); Larry Dann (Waiter/Jimmy/Doctor); Ellen Thomas (Linda); Rudolph Walker (Mr. King).
This was a revival of the original 1987 production and ran from 28 January - 27 February 1988.
"King Lear has lost none of its potency as myth. While Godard's version plays in the cinema, Barrie Keeffe's King of England at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East uses the framework of Shakespeare's story to explore racial attitudes. The result frequently strains credibility but it is fascinating to see how the borrowed majesty of the source - and its shifting moral balance - gives weight to Mr. Keeffe's work. Mr. King, his hero, is retiring after 35 years as an Underground driver based at the Stratford depot and preparing to return to his native Trinidad. By way of celebration he takes his two daughters - nurse Susan and florist Linda along with the latter's fiance - to dinner at a smart Soho restaurant. There he springs a surprise by transferring the ownership of his house to them. But when Susan, embittered by health service cuts, refuses to join in a toast to the Mother Country and storms out, the leery Mr. King hands the property over to the heartless Linda only to discover how sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have an ungrateful daughter. Shakespeare told us that 'Poor Tom's a cold'. Mr. Keeffe's point is that Uncle Tom is out in the cold. In a moving and truthful scene, his hero describes how he came to Britain after the way, in which 10,000 West Indians fought, expecting a warm-hearted welcome. Not finding it, he buckled to, worked hard and protected his wife and daughters from the ugliness of racial prejudice. It is a sign of Mr. Keeffe's maturity that he leaves open the question of whether his hero is a dignified exemplar of the work-ethic or a vain old fool blind to the realities of British life. The answer is that he is both and the play works to the extent that one's sympathy swings back and forth like a pendulum....Philip Hedley's production also yields some very good performances. Rudolph Walker lends the underground Stratford Lear a fine, grizzled authority, Claire Benedict is touching as the morally indignant nurse and Paul Barber is outstanding as the sharp, fly fiance who owns bingo-parlours and sports two-tone shoes: he gives us a snazzy dude whose heart is in working order. I wish that Ellen Thomas as the wicked sister did not advertise her villainy quite so obviously by turning up wreathed in gold lame." ~ Michael Billington, "Poor Tom", The Guardian, 3 February 1988
"What he [Mr. King] regards as the emblems of his acceptance are, Keeffe jabbingly lets us see, indications of his extremely patchy assimilation. It is typical, for example, that King interprets as preferential treatment the fact that the restaurant manager has booked the family a distant corner table behind a pillar. These scenes manage to be both warmly sympathetic and comically excruciating, but Keeffe's play wants to bring its hero to some recognition that his success has been bought at the cost of a certain deadening of proper indignation - that turning the other cheek has invovled (perhaps culpably) turning a blind eye." ~ Paul Taylor, "Cracked i' the crown", The Independent, 14 February 1988