The Nottingham Playhouse can only be applauded for their authentic casting of Daniel Hoffmann – Gill’s brand new play Kings. Where another theatre may have cast a fully limbed actor in the role of Big Dave – written as a man with one arm – the Playhouse have employed amputee Tim Baggaley an actor who actually does have only one arm. Their casting choices go even deeper with the remaining characters in the residence for homeless men including casting an actor with Downs Syndrome to be a character with Downs Syndrome. In incorporating a small unique cast of inspiringly unconventional characters with disabilities into the play their genuine presence enables its themes of caring and troubled minds and bodies to resonate beautifully. These, wider initiative, choices demonstrate Nottingham Playhouse’s real commitment in helping to lead the way in casting authentically and inclusively.
Although the language can be very raw at times, Hoffmann-Gill’s writing occasionally borders on poetic and cleverly mixes the ordinary speech of the Nottingham guys with understated flashes of classical prose. The action sometimes leaks into surreality, especially in the second half, and can at times be disturbing. But thankfully, the piece never ever feels preachy about homelessness or physical and mental disabilities. It is often said that people are best served educationally by humour and there is a lot of humour in Kings as well as a good degree of pathos.
Essentially Kings is about caring and coping and the scary nature of leaving a secure Framework type residence to re-settle in a home within the heart of the general populace not on the margins of it. In the departing character – Wayne’s – case (Joe Doherty) his fears are underpinned with his concern of controlling his fitting.
The characters are brilliantly written and portrayed; portly Elvis (James Warrior) faces almost daily humiliation as he attempts to earn some money with a dreadful Elvis act and out of date sexist comedy; Kirky (Dominic Grove) puts on a desperately mature front super eager to forever care for his fellow residents but is terrified of leaving the home. Barry (Chris Lund) is a sweet helpless character almost from another era with a distaste for swearing. He has his work cut out as there is a fair amount of swearing in the piece especially from Tim Baggaley’s tough suicidal character Big Dave.
There are two female characters in the play both played exquisitely by Sophie Ellerby. Ellerby brings out the young sympathetic caring professional in Sarah and is the object (if one dare use such a word) of mild attraction for a couple of the men. Her other character – a slightly sloshed and verbally abused call girl is extremely well realised. The local accent for this character is perfectly pitched and one that echoes across Nottingham and it’s piss soaked back alleys late on a Friday and Saturday night.
Director Fiona Buffini uses her insights and directorial pedigree to great effect in this extremely affecting and moving new play about friendship and dignity in Nottingham Playhouse’s intimate Neville Studio.
Photo credit: Robert Day.
Reviewer: Phil Lowe
Kings runs at Nottingham Playhouse Neville Studio until Saturday 30 April.