Perhaps you’ve wondered what would happen if Monty Python produced Shakespeare’s The Life and Death of King John. Well, it probably would look a little bit like this production: fierce, anxiety-ridden, badly-dressed announcer (Trevor Jones); men playing the role of women; women playing the role of men; the rapacious King John (Evan Ockershausen), one of the great villains of English history, played as a spoiled boy.
The difference, unfortunately, is that the Monty Python version would be a ten-minute bit of sketch comedy, while the Rude Mechanical’s The Life of King John was the one hour’s traffic of our stage. The joke is funny at the outset, but it’s pretty much a one-trick pony, and halfway in it’s simply annoying.
The Life and Death of King John is not much produced, but when it is well done (as it was by WSC Avant Bard in 2013) it is funny and exciting. John became King of England upon the death of his brother Richard, who died without heirs, but King Phillip of France (here played by Mikki Barry) insists that the English throne truly belongs to Arthur (Holly Trout), the son of John’s late older brother Geoffrey.
After haggling, war and the threat of more war, they reach a settlement: the Dauphin (Tim MacGroin) will marry John’s niece Blanche of Castille (Melanie Jester) and, as dowry, John will give some of the French territories which his father, Henry II, won by conquest. This arrangement outrages Arthur’s sclerotic mother, Lady Constance (Sam David) and, more importantly, Cardinal Pandolf (Carol Calhoun), who is determined to punish John for his affronts to the Church. Pandolf insists that Phillip lead his armies against John, or he will excommunicate him, and the French King reluctantly complies.
The Life of King John
Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Alan Duda
for the Rude Mechanicals
Details and tickets
It is hard to assess the quality of the acting since it appears that director Alan Duda (who appears briefly as a bow-tied historian) has them all shout and screech their lines, for comic effect. Melissa Schick, who plays John’s formidable mother Elinor of Aquitaine, is a little more subdued than the rest, and thus more effective. But even she is brought down by the production’s concept; the first time she says, “I really have to have a talk with my agent,” it’s funny, but by the fourth repetition it is less so. David is also good as Arthur’s mum – possibly because Shakespeare wrote her as a hysteric, and the Mechanicals simply couldn’t up the amperage any further.
The Rude Mechanics seemed to have fun with this production. I wish I could say the same.