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Farinelli and the King at London’s Duke of York’s theatre review, starring Mark Rylance – ‘impressive’

Mark Rylance, Iestyn Davies, Sam Crane and Melody Grove in Farinelli and the King at the Duke of York's theatre. Photo: Simon Annand Mark Rylance, Iestyn Davies, Sam Crane and Melody Grove in Farinelli and the King at the Duke of York's theatre. Photo: Simon Annand

Claire van Kampen’s play, inspired by the life of famed castrato Farinelli and his complex relationship with Philippe V of Spain, comes to the West End from the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the first production to do so.

An impressive attempt has been made to recreate something of the magic of that space in the Duke of York’s. The balconies have been swagged and the walls painted, a number of audience members are seated on benches on either side of the stage and the ornate back wall of the Playhouse has been replicated. Crucially they have retained the candles, filling the theatre with flickering light. It is this which really transforms the space, this old gold glow, this warmth.

The play itself is solid without being revelatory, but while it loses its way a little towards the end, it does give Mark Rylance a gift of a role in the mercurial monarch and his performance is one of typical precision and delicacy.

The production’s masterstroke, though, is the splitting of the character of Farinelli between actor Sam Crane and countertenor Iestyn Davies (who is sharing the role with two others over the course of the run). This doubling highlights Farinelli’s unease with his own celebrity; Crane’s performance is subtle and sympathetic, Davies’ voice extraordinary.

While John Dove has inserted a couple of big, stage-filling moments into his production, in many ways they feel superfluous; it is the combination of glorious music and the chance to see Rylance in his element which really make this production sing.

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A successful attempt to transfer some of the magic of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse to the West End