Review: Wigs, frocks and expletives, it's Simon Russell Beale in Mr Foote's Other Leg
Review: Dystopian, fantasy, reality, thriller Pomona, National Theatre

Review: Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King from the back of the stage and a bit of unscripted drama


Love on stage seating; up close to the action, often there is no view quite like it. So when a batch of on stage tickets were released for Farinelli and the King at the Duke of York's for £30 a pop I snapped up a pair.

Now the seating plan didn't really prepare us for where we would be sitting - which was good and bad. Ours were two of eight seats on the musicians balcony above the back of the stage accessed via the back stage area. Squeezed on a cushioned bench, lean back too far and you'd fall on a musician. They are a chatty bunch while waiting to perform.

Getting a quick peek back stage is also fun, particularly when Mark Rylance says 'hello' as you return to your seat before the second half. You also get to hear the mechanics of the performance, bits of set being moved around and the stage manager speaking to Rylance when the performance was stopped. Yes, second time this year I've been at a play when this happened.

This time a lady fainted. She was sat in the on stage seating* to the side of the stage and had to be carried out. The actors all stayed in position but Rylance dropped out of character commenting that he didn't want to continue until he knew she was OK (according to Twitter it's not the first time he's done this). He also remarked how warm it was. After what seemed like minutes but probably wasn't a voice from beneath our balcony was heard to say: "You can start again Mark, she's OK." And off they went as if nothing had happened.

I mention all this because it was part of the experience and it was the experience that really counted in this instance because, for all the fun of sitting on stage, you actually didn't get a great view of the performance. As there were only eight of us at the very back the performance was given to the main theatre audience - as you'd expect. What it meant was we were mostly watching the back of the actors heads. When a back drop was lowered, between us and the stage, in peering over it you had even less of the stage to see.

It does make judging the performance and the play rather tricky. There were times when the audience were in rapturous laughter presumably because of some facial expression or gesture obscured from our view. That isn't to say I didn't laugh and enjoy the play because I did to a point - it is a funny script although not as funny as Mr Foote's Other Leg which I saw earlier in the week.

Mark Rylance gave his characteristic gentle, stuttering performance as the mentally disturbed King, who seems to recover most of his senses when listening to famous castrato Farinelli. The music and singing is beautiful, Farinelli having both an actor (Sam Crane) and a singer to portray him. There are three different singers who share the role appearing at the appropriate moment. I think we had Iestyn Davies but it was difficult to tell from the back of his head and occasional side profile. I'm not sure if Sam Crane lip-synced or stayed impassive or what while singing Farinelli was on stage as I couldn't tell from the back of his head.

It was a fun night but I'd like to see the play from a different perspective to properly review it.

Farinelli and the King is on at the Duke of York's Theatre until December 5 and is two hours and 30 minutes including an interval.

* Somewhat ironic that is was someone in the on stage seating that had to be carried out. Prior to the performance I received an email with a long list of instructions about on stage seating. The sort of instructions that read like they have been written by someone put out by the fact that there is audience seating on stage.  The words 'no exception' are used and a three year old would get the point that you can't leave your seat during the performance. Perhaps the lady fainted in desperation, the only way to get out - it didn't say you couldn't on the list. 


Not one but two direct connections - Mark Rylance and Mr W were in the film Days and Nights together and Sam Crane was in ...some trace of her at the National.