If you’ve ever seen Andrew Scott perform Simon Stephens’ monologue Sea Wall you’ll know he is a master storyteller, deftly lifting words off the page and turning them into something compelling and gripping.
Three Kings, beautifully written by Stephen Beresford, gives him even more scope to sprinkle his performance magic. Created especially for the Old Vic’s In Camera season, it is described as a scratch performance but only the lack of embellishments like set and fancy lighting give any sign of this.
And who needs any of that anyway when you’ve got 60 minutes of you and Scott, albeit seen from the other side of a screen. Like Sea Wall, the power is in the story as it is told. And it is a powerful piece, Scott drawing out the humour and heartache in equal measure.
Three Kings is about the relationship between a son and his an estranged father. He meets him briefly at eight years old but the meeting leaves an indelible mark which will go on shaping their relationship for many years. His father leaves him a challenge of solving a puzzle involving three coins – the Three Kings of the title. But it more than a simple test of puzzle-solving, solving this puzzle is hugely weighted.
It’s set up as a measure of who the boy is – is he bright enough to work it out and therefore worthy of the relationship? The irony of the test is only slowly revealed, as is the nature of the relationship and the influence parent has on child.
Beresford gives Scott a handful of different characters to play with as the son grows up and discovers more about the father who flits in and out of his life like the tail of kite flapping within grasp. One character reminded me a lot of Samuel West’s Leonard Bast from Howard’s End, in how he sounded at least.
In some ways, it’s a coming of age story and an exploration of nature versus nurture but it is also a look at the complex nature of relationships and how people even when absent shape and influence your life.
The previous In Camera production was a re-run of an already staged play, Lungs, but Three Kings benefits from having been written for the live Zoom format. There are a couple of awkward camera focus pulls but otherwise, the cameras are used to the advantage of the piece with some particularly effective split-screen.
It draws you into the piece, breaching the distance between audience and performance in a way that Lungs didn’t.
There are two more performances left today although I suspect we haven’t seen the last of this piece – but grab a ticket just in case.
I’m giving Three Kings ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ and you can find more details here on the Old Vic website.
…And if you are interested in seeing Sea Wall, it was made into a short film which you can pay to view here.
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From the archive: 2010 review of Design For Living, Old Vic starring Andrew Scott, Tom Burke and Lisa Dillon.
From the archive: Review of Andrew Scott in Sea Wall 2013, The Shed
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