Once In Royal David’s City

Review by Laura Money

I’m going to be honest – this play confuses me! On the one hand it’s a clever swipe at the pretentious nature of theatre, in particular absurdist theatre. On the other, it’s a bit pretentious and over-acted in a way that breaks the fourth wall a little too abruptly. Michael Gow’s wonderful script is clever, simple, and charming. At the heart of the piece is a young man’s struggle to remain authentic, enjoy life, and be a good son.

Brecht-obsessed Will Drummond (Jason Klarwein) is the happy-go-lucky protagonist. His affable and friendly nature, combined with a glass-half-full attitude shines through and one feels instant affection for him. A story about young Will getting lost at the beach, and his self-teasing when going through a ‘German stage’ create a relatable and memorable character who is lovable enough to be forgiven of any moments of pretentiousness. Klarwein is subtle and understated in his performance, which only serves to highlight how deeply his character feels pain.  Penny Everingham makes her Black Swan Theatre Company debut as the delightful Jeannie, Will’s iron-willed mother. Her performance is effortless and so real – it feels like you’re catching up with a bunch of old friends.

Once In Royal David’s City is a tangible piece of theatre that pays homage to absurdist and surrealist theatre in an unprecedented way. The Brechtian elements are there, however there is a lack of overt, gritty, doom and gloom that many young theatre writers seem to feel makes a show important. Who said someone going through trauma has to take it badly? Klarwein headlines a fantastic ensemble cast that take you through the heartache of loss, love, identity, politics, and absurdist theatre, with a few Christmas carols and laugh-out-loud surreal moments thrown in!