‘Exit the King’ review – Rhys Ifans delivers a respectable performance in this absurdist comedy

A 400-year-old king (Rhys Ifans) is refusing to die. It sounds promising and above all, absolutely ridiculous, but with hit-and-miss humour, you do start to wish that he’d get on with it – ★★★☆☆

A madcap play about existentialism has the potential to be both hilariously daft and incredibly thought-provoking. At its smartest, it can raise intelligent points about life and dying. At its most bonkers, it can have Harry Potter star Rhys Ifans rolling and floundering around the stage as a crazed monarch.

Photo: Simon Annand.

In a production which is completely off the rails, it’s Ifans’ performance as the King which really stands out. Handed some impressive monologues in his role, the actor recites them with a Shakespearean air – something which is perhaps one of the play’s many jokes which isn’t quite apparent on the first try.

Other notable performances include Indira Varma’s role as the impatient Queen Marguerite, who shines in the final scenes, and Doctor Who‘s Adrian Scarborough offers most of the intriguing remarks from this production as The Doctor (no, not that one).

Outside of these three characters, the rest of the cast’s talents are wasted. Derek Griffith’s role as an over-enthusiastic royal guard revolves around the same repeated joke, while Amy Morgan plays a devoted lover that doesn’t have much to offer in terms of dialogue. Debra Gillett’s part as a nurse, although brilliantly acted, fails to pack either an intelligent or comedic punch.

Granted, absurdist comedy is very much an acquired taste, but in a weird way, there must be a method to the madness. Interesting ideas about death are raised in one of Ifans’ many poetic monologues, but the final comment towards the end of the play is lost in Eugène Ionesco’s flowery language. The great big moral of the story – the opportunity to make the underlying point far more apparent to the audience – is the final punchline. As one approaches the end of the play, one expects there to be one remark which undermines the sentimentally – yet it never arrives.

Slightly underwhelming in nature and with a bag full of light jokes that don’t quite land, Exit the King is missable, but sees Rhys Ifans deliver an impressive performance.

Exit the King is now playing at the Olivier Theatre until 6 October.


Review: ‘This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ by Adam Kay

Spreading a strong message through comedy is most likely one of the more difficult feats to pull off within the medium – make it too serious and the humour is lost, but add too many jokes and the call to action is diminished. Fortunately, when comedian Adam Kay wrote a book giving an honest look at the intense life of a junior doctor, such a balance was brilliantly executed.

Photo: Liam O’Dell.

Only a select few books have had the ability to make me laugh out loud, and that does in no way suggest that I don’t have a sense of humour (more that I find it harder to laugh at written comedy), and Kay’s book is one of them. Then again, it isn’t hard to make jokes about the profession and the bizarre medical scenarios in which a doctor can find themselves – look no further than the several ‘doctor, doctor’ jokes that have appeared to have survived the test of time for proof of this.

Throughout, the book flits between diary entries about Kay’s job, and those about how his personal life is affected, just as much as it jumps between the comedic and the tragic. Then, to make it very clear that this is about a genuine insight into the life of a junior doctor (at a time when they are continued pressure), This is Going to Hurt ends on a particularly sad and emotional note regarding one medical incident. It’s a tone which precedes an open letter to the Health Secretary, which tightly sums up the points raised in the book in a TL;DR-like fashion.

With an NHS under increasing pressure, it’s easy for us to imagine the stresses that staff face after having binge-watched a series of Casualty, but in This is Going to Hurt, we hear the pure truth without the over-dramatisation – the only ‘sugarcoating’ being the added benefit of comic relief when the truth hurts too much.

Comedic, insightful and educational, this book is a must-read to understand the true pressure our junior doctors face.

Rating: 4/5

Behind the Scenes: The Russell Howard Hour

Even when we didn’t have to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), an exciting opportunity came my way at the start of this month and only now do I feel comfortable enough to talk about it without fearing a lawsuit or a scary PR email. The opportunity in question was to go and see a recording of a new TV show on Sky 1, The Russell Howard Hour.

When I say ‘we’, I also brought my friend along to see what was essentially the pilot of the series (the first episode aired last night). After getting lost and going for a walk, we finally stumbled across the venue and it was only then that I realised that the Television Centre meant the Television Centre that was used by the BBC before moving to the New Broadcasting House. That was pretty cool.

After queuing for quite a while we were ushered in, given a free bottle of Fosters (cheers – I don’t drink but I appreciated the gesture) and took our seat in the audience. As we looked at the open set, with plenty of space for Russell to run around, it was clear that the show was going to have a Good News vibe – however big or small. In fact, those who saw Thursday night’s show will probably agree with the view I had when filming finished: it’s essentially Good News on Sky 1.

However, I’m not complaining. I missed the show when it took its hiatus from the BBC, and despite its many similarities, there are some new segments which prevent it from being a full-on carbon copy of the Beeb’s format (such as the Playground Politics section, for example).

Anyway, I digress: the behind the scenes insight was interesting. If you’ve been to Universal Orlando and have seen the Indiana Jones stunt show, then imagine that but without the exaggerated acting, of course.

James Gill did a great job warming the audience up ahead of each part – it’s amazing how excited you can make a crowd of people with nothing more than a simple clapping exercise and a packet of Haribo.

Other noteable parts of the pilot to mention were the stand-up section (delivered by a hilarious junior doctor and comedian called Kwame Asante) and an interesting interview with Olympian Amy Williams. Howard’s humour in between takes also showed that he is a decent bloke off camera/stage too.

Much like how seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child made me appreciate all the important work that goes on off-stage, going to a recording of a TV show has led to me appreciating these people a lot more. No more ignoring the credits.

If you fancy being in the audience for a recording of The Russell Howard Hour, free tickets are available here.

Review: Mega Games with Tom Webb

On a quiet, peaceful September evening, I sat on a deckchair and listened to music. This was part of the Roundabout Festival – a collaboration between Paines Plough and the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre (LPAC) – and I was there to see Mega Games with Tom Webb.

The event itself was held in the Paines Plough Roundabout theatre which, on the outside, certainly looked intriguing. But when we were finally invited to enter the theatre itself, it was surprising to see how large the inside of the structure was. The theatre had a somewhat post-modern design (both inside and outside) and definitely gave off a friendly and homely atmosphere – perfect for Tom Webb’s Mega Games, a show with audience participation at its core.

As we entered the theatre, Tom greeted us before handing us a raffle ticket. Over the course of the evening, he would pull out two tickets and those two people would go head-to-head in a ‘mega game’. Admittedly, I wasn’t so keen on the audience participation aspect of the show (having a spotlight shined on me – with members of the audience all staring at me – can be a little nerve-wracking), but even if you weren’t selected, you could still get involved with the show.

For me, my type of audience participation is when I can blend in with the rest of the crowd. With games such as Mega Basketball and Appleships, those in the audience were given tasks such as creating a basketball hoop with their hands and revealing whether they own an Apple smartphone or not.Aside from the games itself, Tom Webb also did well to add to the silliness of the show itself. When ‘mega gamers’ made their way to the stage, Tom was quick to welcome them to the game and thank them for coming before delivering his own brand of comedy. With Tom creating jokes based on audience members, there was definitely a strong sense of involvement and audience participation – something which made the show interesting and unique.

Then, as the show reached its conclusion, Tom opened the games up to the entire audience by challenging us all to a game of Mega Rock, Paper, Scissors. The evening ended with the top scoring ‘mega gamers’ playing Human Hungry Hippos, where they had to be the first to eat a handful of Skittles out of another person’s hand – certainly a bizarre and silly end to a rather funny evening.

Combining witty humour with silly games and a little bit of nostalgia, Mega Games with Tom Webb is an immersive, mock comedy game show which promises a good laugh alongside light-hearted gaming. 

Rating: 4 out of 5