Review: The Duke at the Royal Court
Written for Everything Theatre
It doesn’t happen often that you walk into an auditorium and are personally welcomed by the performer doing the show. Yet, Shôn Dale-Jones does exactly that just before the start of his one-man show The Duke at the Royal Court’s small theatre upstairs. It sets the tone perfectly for a very personal 60 minutes, in which Dale-Jones talks about three things: the process of finishing up a film script he’s worked on for ten years, the aftermath of his mother accidentally breaking a porcelain figure of the Duke of Wellington, and the refugee crisis.
If incorporating these obviously very different strands into one harmonious whole sounds like a bit of a stretch, that’s probably because it is. Subjects one and two flow easily alongside and through one another, taking up by far the biggest chunk of the show. The moments when Dale-Jones talks about refugees, however, are sparse and feel like they’re tacked on exclusively to provide a link with Save the Children; the evening is in aid of their child refugee appeal, and the audience is asked to ‘pay’ for their free ticket by making a donation to the charity at the end of the show. As well as an excellent storyteller, Dale-Jones proves to be a master manipulator as he blatantly cajoles people into donating (‘You are kind, you are generous’ is followed by ‘This is not a competition, but in Plymouth they gave £15 each’.)
The overall tone of the show alternates between humourous (most of the time) and earnest, occasionally straying into sentimental-but-not-soppy. While talking us through his quest to replace The Duke, Dale-Jones also does all the tech himself, from the laptop he has in front of him. Surprisingly, this very nuts and bolts approach works remarkably well, despite not being the smoothest. With the house lights up as well, and the occasional bit of audience interaction, it all adds to an informal atmosphere that feels more like a family gathering than a theatre performance. Of course, you do need a considerable amount of confidence and charm to pull this off, and Dale-Jones doesn’t seem short of either. So, while it’s definitely not a format I would recommend to most performers, in this case it was a fantastic find. The shows are the Court are all booked up, but you can experience it for yourself when the show comes to the Barbican next month. And if you do, don’t forget to donate, like the kind and generous person that you are.
This show has now completed its run at the Royal Court