[THEATRE REVIEW] THE KING’S PLAYER @ Alex Theatre Review (2024)

I am not sure I fully understood, absorbed or appreciated all that The King’s Player was about, even though other patrons seemed to be having a wow of a time.

Suffice to say, it is a lone hander and the writer and performer is clearly talented – adept at crafting and playing physical and improvisational comedy.

Tref Gare has been performing the show for more than 20 years and has done so across the UK, Australia, New Zealand and India.

As he writes in a thorough backgrounder on the Victorian Theatre Company website, the play’s origins date back to when he was fresh out of mime school.

He scored a gig touring Britain with an indie theatre company called The Medieval Players.

They were famous for works of highly physical, multi-disciplinary theatre inspired by medieval traditions.

Trying to construct his own material, Gare struggled to find good examples of royal/noble court-based performances.

That’s when one of his friends suggested he look at the play within a play in Hamlet.

Gare thought it might be funny if “his” medieval performer had been part of that troupe, which became an idea that perhaps he WAS that troupe.

The kernel of truth that became The King’s Player was born.

It is a show set in medieval Europe.

It is a time and a place when squalor, plagues, death, the occasional disembowelment and general unpleasantness were par for the course.

As the production reveals, our hero is a struggling, juggling minstrel, whose mother died giving birth to him.

He is the son of a blacksmith who spent his working life making chains in the small village, where they lived.

Although the protagonist’s destiny appeared to be to follow in his father’s footsteps, it was not to be and eventually, with his dad’s blessing, he hit the road.

Living a hand to mouth existence, often mistreated, he dreamt of performing for the king in the Danish court of Elsinore (the focal point of the action in Hamlet).

Lo and behold, unexpectedly he gets that chance.

The King’s Player deals with the lead up to that event and the consequence of it, while giving us the central character’s backstory.

The play combines liberal, historic interpretation with umpteen contemporary references and much showmanship.

Gare is a performer par excellence who throws himself around, plays 16 characters, generates funny voices and sound effects, pulls faces and even sings.

He also frequently breaks the fourth wall … and does all of that in his stride, seemingly effortlessly.

In fact, even before the show starts, he greets and freely interacts with his audience.

The King’s Player is 70 minutes of cleverly orchestrated madness and mayhem, during which Gare readily showcases his extensive range.

He is robed in the same motley, patchwork costume he initiated the role with.

External sound and lighting effects, with a large, evocative medieval backdrop complete the picture.

One thing I did fully appreciate at curtain call was just how precarious an existence life in medieval Europe was. Tref Gare makes that perfectly clear with much mirth and merriment. The King’s Player is on at Alex Theatre in St Kilda until 26th April, 2024.

Review by Alex First