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Credit: Brian Roberts
Credit: Brian Roberts

The Duke, Royal Court Theatre – Review

Pros: A funny and charmingly DIY one-man performance, delivered with confidence and charisma.

Cons: The script could do with a bit of a polish.

Pros: A funny and charmingly DIY one-man performance, delivered with confidence and charisma. Cons: The script could do with a bit of a polish. It isn’t often that you walk into an auditorium and the performer of the show personally welcomes you. Yet, Shôn Dale-Jones does exactly that just before the start of his one-man show The Duke at the Royal Court’s small upstairs theatre. It sets the tone perfectly for a very personal hour, in which Dale-Jones talks about three things: the process of finishing up a film script he’s worked on for ten years; the aftermath of…

Summary

Rating

Excellent

A worthwhile show in aid of a worthwhile cause. You have a nice evening, Save the Children gets money — everybody wins.

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It isn’t often that you walk into an auditorium and the performer of the show personally welcomes you. Yet, Shôn Dale-Jones does exactly that just before the start of his one-man show The Duke at the Royal Court’s small upstairs theatre. It sets the tone perfectly for a very personal hour, in which Dale-Jones talks about three things: the process of finishing up a film script he’s worked on for ten years; the aftermath of his mother accidentally breaking a porcelain figure of the Duke of Wellington; and the refugee crisis.

If you think that incorporating these obviously very different strands into one harmonious whole sounds like a bit of a stretch, you’re right. Subjects one and two flow easily alongside and through one another, taking up by far the biggest chunk of the show. The moments when Dale-Jones talks about refugees, however, are sparse and feel like they were tacked on exclusively to provide a link with Save the Children; the evening is in aid of their child refugee appeal, and the audience is asked to ‘pay’ for their free ticket by making a donation to the charity at the end of the show. As well as an excellent storyteller, Dale-Jones proves to be a master of manipulation as he blatantly cajoles people into donating (‘You are kind, you are generous’ is followed by ‘This is not a competition, but in Plymouth they gave £15 each’).

The tone of the show alternates between humourous (most of the time) and earnest, occasionally straying into sentimental-but-not-soppy. While talking us through his quest to replace The Duke, Dale-Jones also does all the tech himself, from the laptop he has in front of him. Surprisingly, this very nuts-and-bolts approach works remarkably well, despite not being particularly smooth. With the house lights up as well, and the occasional bit of audience interaction, it all adds to an informal atmosphere that feels more like a family gathering than a theatre performance. Of course, you do need a considerable amount of confidence and charm to pull this off, and Dale-Jones doesn’t seem short of either. So, while it’s definitely not a format I would recommend to most performers, in this case it worked fantastically. The shows at the Court are all booked up, but you can experience it for yourself when the show arrives at the Barbican next month. And if you do, don’t forget to donate, like the kind and generous person that you are.

Written, Directed and Performed By: Shôn Dale-Jones
Producers: Hoipolloi, PBJ Management and Theatre Royal Plymouth in association with Pleasance Theatre
Box Office: 020 7638 8891
Booking Link: https://www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=20123
Booking: 15-17 December 2016

About Eva de Valk

Eva de Valk
Eva moved to London to study the relationship between performance and the city. She likes most kinds of theatre, especially when it involves 1) animals, 2) audience participation and/or 3) a revolving stage. Seventies Andrew Lloyd Webber holds a special place in her heart, which she makes up for by being able to talk pretentiously about Shakespeare. When she grows up she wants to be either a Jedi or Mark Gatiss.