Review: The King in Yellow, The Lion and Unicorn Theatre (Camden Fringe)


Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Presented by GayInnocentHeartless Theatrics, (a relatively new and exciting London-based theatre company), The King is Yellow is an intelligent, darkly enchanting, totally unique and deliciously decadent adaptation, based on the Victorian cosmic horror anthology by R. W. Chambers of the same name.

This suspense-driven work by Josephine Czarnecki and Darwin Garrett, beautifully takes inspiration from and pays homage to, The King in Yellow, Chambers’ aforementioned anthology of surreal and macabre tales. The collection is an unusual, supernatural fiction set in a dystopian 1920s America and was inspired by a play of the same name, (referenced in several of the stories and said to drive the reader to madness by the second act). GayInnocentHeartless tackles the dystopian writing by staging their adaptation in a Brechtian and highly representative manner. Their ambiguity in era does much to aid the understanding and drawing of various parallels to today. Whilst the original play retains much of the significance it holds in Chambers’ text, representatively featuring in many scenes, (a strikingly yellow copy of Chambers’ book enacting as the place holder here). The yellow cover is thus intrinsically highlighted against the backdrop of the monochromatic set, costume and props.

The prime appeal of Czarnecki and Garrett’s adaptation is however, the format. Though the pace did drop at points, their version effortlessly with both wit and charm, interweaves the narrative between re-enactments of Chambers’ first four interconnected stories; The Repairer of Reputations, The Mask, In The Court of the Dragon and The Yellow Sign. The production commands its audience to bear witness to a group of young bohemians, artists and decadents who fall under the influence of the sinister play. This demonstrated indoctrination is melancholically coupled with hints towards imperialism, (in both the dialogue and the execution), making for a deeply striking comparison to Donald Trump and other world leader’s own seemingly imperialistic intent, (hello Greenland) and of course, his indoctrination of a large proportion of American citizens who unwittingly support him.

The resulting work is wonderfully ensemble-led, stylised and episodic. It darkly explores the thematic of sanity against madness and investigates the infectious nature of an idea. On par, the piece is superbly well acted, Ashton Spear, Robbie Heath, Owen Clark and Nina Atesh are all particularly emotive and strong performers. Whilst Charlene Segeral and Zuzana Spacirova are stand outs, they both display clarity, prosaic passion and certain subtleties in their delivery.

Despite this, the ensemble nature of the piece does cause some confusion. The multi-rolling converging with the interwoven stories makes it difficult to keep up with the characters and who exactly is who. Whilst the relatively niché nature of the stimuli means those who aren’t familiar with Chambers’ work can be left struggling to understand the significance of particular moments and overall plot, at least until some of the later scenes.

Overall, The King is Yellow is unique and well thought out. It does need some tweaking, but is reasonably insightful and has certain striking and witty moments. The King in Yellow runs at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre as part of Camden Fringe until Sunday 25th August, book here. 


WRITTEN BY: Josephine Czarnecki & Darwin Garrett

DIRECTED BY: Josephine Czarnecki & Darwin Garrett

ENSEMBLE: Ashton Spear, Robbie Heath, Owen Clark, Nina Atesh, Charlene Segeral and Zuzana Spacirova.

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