In Claire van Kampen’s debut new play Farinelli and the King Philippe V, the troubled ruler of Spain, is soothed by the feted Italian castrato Carlo Broschi, known as Farinelli, his mind eased by the beauty of his voice.
The Duke of York theatre has been pleasingly transformed into a candle-lit replica of the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse where John Dove’s attractive production was a sell-out success earlier this year. And with Mark Rylance (who just happens to be van Kampen’s husband) reprising his role as the unhappy 18th century monarch who, with his wife Isabella, persuaded Farinelli to give up all future public performances and sing only for him and the court, no doubt this transfer will prove just as popular.
It’s a predominantly gentle affair as the always watchable Rylance toys languidly, playfully with a pet goldfish, though there are hints of unpredictable violence as his mood fluctuates. But it’s the glorious purity of (on the night I went) countertenor Iestyn Davies’ singing which turns this moderately pleasing, historically based tribute to the therapeutic power of music into something special.
In Anthony Horowitz’s Dinner With Saddam, however, it’s more a case of supping – albeit reluctantly – with the devil. Alex Rider author Horowitz goes all out for laughs to tackle a serious subject, creating a farce out of Saddam’s habit, apparentlu, of dropping into ordinary people’s homes both to avoid danger and show solidarity. Set in Baghdad on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, it definitely has its funny moments – including what must surely be one of most extended farts heard on the London stage for a long, long time.
It won’t be to every one’s taste, though – rat poison in the mixed spice jar, too tight trousers and a turd in the fridge sit somewhat uneasily with the summary execution of a guard guilty only of yawning. But former bad boy of British drama (the now 78 year old Steven Berkoff sporting a monstrously dense black wig) still has a commanding stage presence as the tyrannical dictator and Sanjeev Bhaskar’s head-in-the-sand construction supervisor makes the most of the comedy as he tries to marry off his reluctant daughter to her obnoxious, flatulent, traffic cop cousin.
Farinelli and the King
Duke of York’s, St Martin’s Lane, WC2N 4BG
Tube: Charing Cross / Leicester Square
Until 5th December
£10 – £59.50 +Premium seats
Dinner with Saddam
Menier Chocolate Factory, 53 Southwark Street, SE1 1RU
Tube: London Bridge
until 14th November
£35.00 – £37.50 (Meal Deals £43.00)