KING GEORGE, a play penned by Brent Palmer and directed by Adrian Collins, deals with the very topical issue of gentrification. This is explored against the backdrop of the over-development that Woodstock is constantly fighting against to stop the money mongers from trampling on the lives of the established community members. This is the tale currently unfolding in the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre until 2 December 2023.
The play unpacks this conflict in a situation where a developer, Shane (Clyde Berning), wants to demolish the premises of the local strip club owner, George (Brent Palmer), all in the name of progress. One fateful evening, George barges in on Shane’s plush office and slams an eviction notice he’s received down on the table. What follows is said to be a ferocious and tense stand-off, a ceaseless battle of wills with devastating secrets revealed. At the centre of the drama we get a glimpse into the lives of two seedy men, from vastly different backgrounds, willing to put everything on the line in their quest to protect what is theirs.
I truly adore the creative team behind KING GEORGE, all of them passionate about theatre in their own right. But no matter how much I appreciate their passion and talent, as well as the potential that resides within any of their collaborations, I have to review a show on what it promises patrons in its billing. In this instance, KING GEORGE is said to be “nail-biting suspense”.
If it was billed as just two okes, the one slightly agitated and the other disinterestedly-annoyed, having a comedically off-kilter agro-chat about a very relevant topic it would have hit the nail on the head. But if that is measured against suspense expectations, the pacing is off, and there isn’t enough built up tension and stillness to make the explosive moments truly pop.
The text undoubtedly has those moments, with an array of funny quips and sarcastic jabs, revealing the potential for a true stand-off of nail-biting proportions. However, the pacing never truly picks up or leans into paradoxical pauses for you to feel that tingling down your spine that signals the thrill of a tense stand-off hinting at explosive secrets lurking in the dark corners. That edge-of-your-seat promise is not yet realised in this staging of KING GEORGE. The pace feels too uniform and slow throughout, not allowing for much juxtaposition in delivery. It doesn’t allow the funny quips and sarcastic jabs to jettison off the two alpha males in a manner that would make you feel like the hits are leaving a mark. But the pacing is an issues that will possibly self-correct as the play gets time to settle. The prospect of KING GEORGE meeting and matching the entertainment level of Palmer’s previous hit, BENCH, is still there, it just needs a bit of a pent-up anger energy kick for the menace and sarcasm that lingers beneath the service to burst through.
Why I specifically mention BENCH is because the way in which Palmer steps into the character of George reminds of his character Henry in BENCH. In that play, he starred opposite Collins (the director of KING GEORGE) as Dwayne. The tone of George’s character is again, as was the case with Henry, quintessential Palmer.
The difference in why BENCH hit the mark and KING GEORGE doesn’t yet is because of the latter’s lack of stillness, which is required to provide for the contextual juxtaposition of words versus setting. When there’s too much going on, delivery of smartly phrased words get lost in the clutter of too much movement. Stillness in key moments are gems that make lines that truly punch linger. You need to have velocity to offer your audience a moment to sit in the discomfort of a mean or sarcastic line well delivered. It’s not only the setting up of a line that is important, but also the offer of its lingering impact.
BENCH was a play, “about two losers sitting on a bench” as Palmer explained it. What worked in that play was the connection between the performers within a space of limited movement: a bench. This allowed for the stillness of the characters to celebrate their conversation, while limiting the risk of overt acting; the words of Palmer’s great script were the stars of the play. In KING GEORGE, the acting at times gets in the way of the words, as it hinders the required delivery rhythm.
A play must also take into consideration the space within which it is playing. Sightlines in the Masambe Theatre is something theatre makers need to be acutely aware of when staging their plays in this independent theatre gem. If you are not sitting in the first three rows, chances are you will not see anything that happens on the stage floor. In KING GEORGE, certain character actions, albeit small ones, unfortunately get lost because of the sightline obstacle. This mainly impacts on the moments that offer the audience insight into the world of Shane, a privileged Richie Rich who does yoga while making business deals and likes to de-stress from his hard life with a bit of office golf between takeovers. Small things can make or break an audience’s opportunity to connect with a character, and once the moment is lost it can be hard for any actor to re-establish that connection.
The fact that KING GEORGE doesn’t yet live up to its thrilling suspense promise and needs a few tweaks, doesn’t mean that audiences won’t find it amusing, as long as they walk in knowing this staging is perhaps a bit more tempered than the fight it could be. The comedy is still captured in the text and the actors do leave it all on the Masambe stage in the delivery of their characters. Theatrical commitment this play has in spades and it can only grow as it’s allowed time to breathe. I did have some giggles in this first staging of KING GEORGE, and I look forward to seeing how it evolves into the intimate dark comedy play it is destined to be.
You have until 2 December 2023 to catch the antics of the colourfully flawed George and Shane in KING GEORGE at the Baxter’s Masambe Theatre with tickets available through Webtickets. Please note that KING GEORGE carries an age restriction of 13 years for explicit language.