THEATRE REVIEW: Farinelli and the King


WHERE: Duke of York’s Theatre

WHEN: 19/9, press night 29/9 runs to 5 December

Transferring from the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Claire van Kampen’s study of Spanish king Philippe V asks whether music could heal his depression bordering on insanity.

The story involves the queen travelling to London in 1737 to persuade the celebrated castrato Farinelli to return with her to sing at court in an attempt to heal the ailing king.

What follows is an unusual evening of beautiful song exploring the idea of music as redemption (a similar idea to Our Country’s Good which we saw this week at the National) occasionally marred by a thin plot and clunky dialogue that resorts to swearing for laughs.

We didn’t see it at its original venue but it’s put on well here with audience members sitting at each end of the stage allowing Mark Rylance’s animated king the opportunity to interact with them.

Rylance is excellent and always believable as the bipolar king who is initially wary of Farinelli but gains something from him as the main players leave Madrid for a life of simplicity in the country.

Is Rylance Britain’s best actor? Quite possibly. And his presence here certainly elevates this piece into one of the more intriguing plays to seek out this season.

  • Seats available from £10 here.

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