Friday, January 17, 2020

King John at the RSC

I cannot overstate how grateful I am for the RSC’s current rush ticket policy - on Friday afternoons there’s the chance to pick up tickets for the following weeks performances at £10 each. We live about an hour from Stratford and are quite prepared to go on a week night so over the last year have seen so much more than we could otherwise have afforded. Initially I felt a bit guilty about this - it felt almost to good to be true, or fair to the RSC who’s full price tickets represent a fair amount of entertainment for your money even if I can’t afford them.

I’m over that now that I can honestly say I’ve spent more on the roughly 10 theatre trips last year than I would have on my normal 2 or 3, and knowing that seats are still available. I wouldn’t chance being able to get rush tickets for something I was really desperate to see, but it’s meant I’ve seen a lot of things I wouldn’t otherwise have gone to. It makes a huge difference whilst I’m not working too.

King John is an excellent example of a play we wouldn’t have necessarily gone to see without rush tickets, but as it stands we’ve now seen it twice - because it’s that good (so good that we would possibly go again if we get the chance). It’s not one of Shakespeare’s better known histories which is probably all to the good, this production also feels effortlessly relevant.

King John is played by Rosie Sheehy who slouches onto the stage in pyjamas and kimono the morning after his coronation, mixes, and then downs something between a Bloody Mary and a Prairie Oyster. Anyone who can swallow a raw egg and tomato concoction like that has earned the applause she got for it. In the background a BBC style announcement delivers the prologue - the setting is a re-imagined mid twentieth century with a hint of mafia style families about it.

It’s a modern(ish) setting that really works. The first half is full of colourful costumes, swagger, disco, dance offs, jokes, and a sense of louche decadence. The fight scenes are magnificent (the lighting, choreography, and during a wedding the mother of all food fights*). They’re clever, visually stunning, and really compelling.

The second half is darker, John’s fortunes are failing, dark deeds are afoot, and events are spinning out of the protagonists control. The costumes become heavier, the colour scheme changes, and so does the lighting (less disco, more candles). The music darkens too, and again all of this is really effective - I can’t remember seeing a play where I’ve been so impressed by staging, music, and lighting. The performances are universally excellent as well - not just individually good, but working really well together.

This is on for another couple of months, and is definitely worth seeing if you’re going to be anywhere near Stratford. I think it’s also being shown in cinemas at some point.

*Beware of flying bread roles if you’re in the first couple of rows.


  1. That does sound like a great ticket policy, although a nuisance if one has to make two trips. When I lived in NYC, one could queue on Saturday mornings for standing room opera tickets at the Met. I don't remember how much they were ($10 or $15 and that was some time ago) but I will admit I got tired of standing although it was very organized: each person had an assigned place to stand and there were ushers to ensure not jockeying for better position.

    1. That's the best thing, it's all done on line and is for the week ahead' The booking window is quite small (just a few hours on a Friday afternoon) but it's great if you either know you're going to be in Stratford and don't much mind what you see, or know you can be there and want the chance to see something again, or take a chance on a play that might otherwise have been to expensive. The preview tickets they do for the first few days of a performance before the press show are really good value too.