As soon as the new season was announced for Royal & Derngate, Northampton, with artistic director James Dacre to direct a new production of Shakespeare’s King John, there was an air of anticipation. I am not sure, however, that anyone could have expected the result, which was to stage it in candle-lit churches and at Shakespeare’s Globe, London.
Only a relatively small audience can have the nightly experience at Northampton’s Holy Sepulchre church, a place that King John and his court frequently visited, and sitting along the nave and choir facing the action makes for amazing intimacy. The authenticity of the setting, the seemingly simple design by Jonathan Fensom, and the exquisitely atmospheric music by Orlando Gough, are all ingenious.
The audience enters the church as a requiem is being staged for King Richard, which has a huge impact before the main play begins. James Dacre has got right under the skin of Shakespeare’s script, creating a fly-on-the-wall type of experience for the audience who, because of their proximity to the action, almost become part of the royal court. Fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown have created some frighteningly fast and dramatic scenes, all upping the tension still further.
Jo Stone-Fewings in the title role has a wealth of Shakespearian experience and proves to be a safe pair of hands, giving an impeccable performance. Alex Waldmann excels as the Bastard, but his comic ability and the intimacy of his dialogue to individual members of the audience shows a touch of genius. Laurence Belcher’s singing of young Prince Arthur’s farewell was hauntingly beautiful.
Verdict: Amazingly intimate, exquisitely atmospheric, a production which sees the director James Dacre get right under the skin of Shakespeare’s script.