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Ivona, Princess of Burgundia

Monday, 24 January, 2011

Until 30th Jan 2011

King-size

Alex Andreou as the impossibly vulnerable Queen

Your first job is to find the Network Theatre, a venue that lurks down an unprepossessing service tunnel off Waterloo Road, just beyond the southern entrance to Waterloo Station towards the Old Vic. (If you’ve got to a bar called The Fire Station, you’ve gone too far, and the security team here don’t know where it is either).

Please do persevere though, because this wonderful production (think Gormenghast, crossed with a Panto) is full of imagination, good humour (even if of the somewhat dark variety) and rich performances.

If nothing else, Ivona would be a triumph for costume designer (and make-up artist) Josie Martin. I don’t think I’ve seen such wonderfully imaginative costumes for a very long time, and her efforts are matched by production designer Charlotte Randell, who gives us a white set dominated by a table, around (and under) which a lot of the action occurs. Director Kos Mantzakos is also meticulous in the way he uses the space and presents us with various tableaux.

But from the moment that one of the cast (Nicolas Templer as Chequers) arrives to crank back the curtains, this production signals itself as something special. What is then revealed is a regal court frozen in time, but about to come to life in this tale of order and chaos, of plotting and a small world turned upside down by a rogue Prince who is determined to marry the most unattractive girl in the kingdom.

There are many good performances here.

David Bartlett extracts many subtle nuances as the fawning and world-weary chancellor, (a master spin-doctor before the word ‘spin’ was conceived), Brendan Jones gives new meaning to the word ‘pike’ as the hopelessly inadequate King with a wonderful crown and a murky past, and Alex Andreou as the impressively bulky, poetry-writing Queen Margaret all shine, but the entire cast is very capable and there are many special moments that manage to be very funny as well as oddly uncomfortable and thought-provoking too.

This all-male production is much more than a cross-dressing, gender-bent spectacle. Leaning heavily toward fairytale fantasy, the over-made-up figures in this drama are more like chess pieces than characters, and while they exhibit a limited range of moves, the challenge for actors and production team alike is to provide us with as much subtlety as possible. This is a challenge that all rise to wonderfully.

This is quite simply, a production that puts to shame the limited imagination of the West End.

Ivona is the first play in Sturdy Beggars‘ “Brain Drain” season. If the others are as good, then they are simply not to be missed.

Cast: Isobel – David Addis; Alex Andreou – Queen Margaret; Bjorn Drori Avraham – Ivona; David Barlett – Chancellor; Sean Stephen Culhane – 1st Aunt; Ryan Davies – Innocent; Matt Garrill – 2nd Aunt; Simon Hancock – 1st Lady; Christopher Hughes – Simon; Brendan Jones – King Ignatius; Edward Parkes – Prince Phillip; Benjamin Reeves – Cyprian; Tom Slatter – 2nd Lady; Nicolas Templer – Beggar/Chequers

Writer – Witold Gombrowicz; Director – Kos Mantzakos; Producer – Hugo Thurston; Production Design – Charlotte Randell; Costume and make up – Josie Martin; Sound Design – Marianna Roe; Lights and sound – Tom Turner

(c) Michael Spring

Reviewed Friday, 21 January 2011

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