In 1661, the young Louis XIV, on the death of Cardinal Mazarin, takes over the reins of power of France but soon finds himself locked in a battle of wills with his friend, Nicolas Fouquet, whose vast wealth has in the past saved the monarchy and who lusts to be first minister.
Hilary Cordery brings sharp humour, elegancy and a dreamlike edge to Nick Dear’s Power, which clearly demonstrates Cordery’s long-standing acquaintance with theatre, leaving the audience to ponder Where does power come from? Who really has it, and why? long after the curtain falls.
Each scene is bookmarked by songs which speak about characters’ motivations; Phillippe struts on to The Kink’s ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’ whilst Fouquet is hailed with The O’Jays ‘Back Stabber’. Alongside Tony Jenner’s marvellous set design, with a little thrust stage for the royal declarations to be announced from, a series of art work play across a large gold frame covering the backwall to signify each event upon the stage.
Dear leaves a string of amusing historical retrospective gags; Louis announces “This is France. We have no savage republicans here”; or when Trish Osborne-King’s splendidly commanding Anne of Austria, the queen mother, complains about the filthiness of the village named Versailles.
But, while the result is witty, elegant and with undeniably fiery and entertaining turns from the actors, the play seems to be saying nothing about the present’s own form of pseudo-presidential politics.
Much of the comedy of the play derives from Chris Cullen’s splendid Fouquet, the epitome of spontaneity and generosity, yet his melancholia hangs like a bleak, impenetrable cloud over every scene. We prefer him to the books-balancing Colbert, despite a cool and level-headed turn from Andy Solts.
Trish Osborne-King brilliantly captures Anne of Austria, fiercely devoted to her children, ruthless in her movement against members of the court and deeply poignant. Laura Adams gives a stunning performance as Henriette d’Angleterre, loving and bitchy in equal parts; we grow to adore these two magnificent women so when Louis turn on them and forces them to bend to his will, we sympathise deeply.
James Mercer as Louis XIV himself, radiates a longing to be independent and an unwavering loyalty in his actions, yet he never quite seem strong enough to carry them through and relax fully into the role. Likewise, Max Pritchett as his brother Philippe had a suitable self-satisfied naivety air yet became slightly melodramatic at points. As the sweet and ever growing confident Louise, Heather Phelps shines but we never fully empathise with her.
Playwright: Nick Dear
Director: Hilary Cordery
Set Designer: Tony Jenner
Costume: Kerstin Beard and Debbie Griffiths
Sound: Simon Tyrell-Lewis
Lighting: Emma Christmas
Choreography: Trish Osborne-King
Cast: James Mercer, Chris Cullen, Trish Osborne-King, Laura Adams, Heather Phelps, Max Pritchett, Andy Solts, Michelle Ashton, Kate Francis, Jessica-Ann Jenner
Photo: Stevie Hughes