Sydney Morning Herald
March 30, 2007
THE return of Geoffrey Rush to the stage in a new, clear and amusingly deadpan version of Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King is cause for celebration.
In the role of the crumbling, childlike King Berenger, the actor reveals his secure technique, raw instincts, physicality and air of mystery that makes him such a volatile and vulnerable force on stage – and so watchable.
The play, translated by the director Neil Armfield and Rush, is all about the vestiges, abuses and delusions of power and how insignificant they are in the larger scheme of things. Mostly, Exit the King is about teetering on the edge of an abyss; a dance of death in which the miserable, doomed and decrepit dictator is pulled like a rag doll between pleasure – or at least a remnant of it – and pain.
Armfield and Rush were drawn to Ionesco’s comedy because of its ambiguities, strong resonances with today’s cultural and political landscape, its sheer theatricality and the scope of its vision. Says Armfield: "Over a lifetime of working together, Geoffrey and I have sought out the alternative list – Shakespeare and Chekhov, of course, but also Gogol and Jonson and Beaumarchais and Patrick White, the ones that play with form, that have the stench of manure coming in through the stage door, noisy, gaudy colours, and a sense of life as a mad dance by a bunch of fabulous marionettes."
Staged by Malthouse Theatre and Company B, the production needs time to settle in and to find a more unifying rhythm but, in its best moments, it is drolly absurdist and paradoxical in the sense it is playful and restrained, silly and sombre, intimate and alienating.
The cast is terrific, especially Bille Brown and Julie Forsyth, whose comic timing and droll delivery help fire up proceedings.
The work premiered on Wednesday at Melbourne’s Malthouse Theatre, a company and performance hub that has been revitalised by its artistic director, Michael Kantor, and which has built close ties with Company B, the Sydney Theatre Company and the Sydney Opera House.
Hugo Weaving, Robyn Nevin and Dame Elisabeth Murdoch were among the opening-night audience for the comedy in which Rush’s puppet-like royal manages to command the space while ultimately seeming to shrink from it.
Whatever the success and fame that his film career has brought, Rush remains every bit the theatre animal, and a fine and rare one at that.