★★★★½ World premiere reveals the magic and mystery of beautiful things.

Dazzeland, Myer Centre, Adelaide
27 February, 2016

A funny thing happens on the way to see The Young King. There are preparations to be made, and the adventure that begins before we’ve even reached the space that formerly occupied the amusement park, Dazzeland, feels almost like a show in itself. Curiosities are presented, and choices are to be made, and through corridors, robing rooms, and the back of a wardrobe, mystery abounds. We are safe in the hands of the quirky bellhops who guide us; they too are royalists.

We are invited to an audience with the Young King on the eve of his coronation. Tim Overton is perfectly cast as his majesty. He chats warmly with his loyal subjects as they enter; even those who’ve already forgotten the correct way to greet this royal. Director Andy Packer grants audiences access to the characters, giving them an immersive experience before the scripting has begun in earnest. It’s a clever device to ensure investment in the action, and a joy to observe.

Jacqy Phillips engages from the first. A storyteller’s storyteller, she shares the narrative and characters with Overton; the pair’s timing and rapport laudable. Phillips’ Old King is superlative, and Overton’s ability to maintain absolute attention from all ages, shows the mastery of his craft. The couple’s ad lib is superb, and does nothing to stem the pace that beautifully keeps to the rhythm of Wilde’s stylised writing.

The hopeful, magisterial and sometimes sinister original compositions by Quincy Grant add a grace and subtlety to the drama with great effect, most notably the scene between Avarice and Death. Geoff Cobham’s lighting mastery includes the soft golden glow from the king’s finery, seen reflected on the face of the young king as he peers into a box, and the danger created in the chamber where the pivotal dream scenes unfold.

Nicki Bloom’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s short story is excellent. Using enough of the original text verbatim to show us the author’s stylish imprint, her extrapolation of the mother’s plight, and replacement of the pilgrim’s mirror with Avarice’s eyes, are insightful and make for a more balanced tale than the original.

The Young King uses puppetry and imagery that leaves a lasting impression. The shifting mediums used to tell the tale result in engaging and visually rich viewing. A few miniature aspects of the set are obscured from some, depending on seating choices (unreserved), but this does nothing to detract from the level of interest. In deciding what sort of ruler he will be, The Young King poses some big issues for young minds, but Slingsby accommodates with a veritable library of education resources on their website.

Wendy Todd’s design and Bob Weatherly’s production management are impeccable. The loom scene is wonderful, as is the visual realisation of the fate of the diver. There are treasures and fascinations just about everywhere throughout the vast set, surprisingly leaving room for the magnificent “reveal” to impress even more.

Expect pass-the-parcel, audience participation and role-playing, but there is nothing juvenile about this production. The attention to detail is phenomenal, and as a result, we take home much more than the material gift from his majesty. The Young King is charming, majestic and utterly delightful and a beautiful jewel in the Festival crown.

The Young King plays at Adelaide Festival until March 13


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