Let me start by asking if you know what ‘bardcore’ is? I do, but only since last night. As the house opened at the Lion & Unicorn theatre, the music playing was strangely familiar – really strangely familiar. And then it clicked. It was a strange adaptation of Aqua’s 1997 solid gold smash hit ‘Barbie Girl’: an instrumental version played with medieval instruments. I’ve listened to this cover by Stantough three times while writing this review, and of course it’s part of a genre known as ‘bardcore’! The sheer thought Hideout Theatre has put in, to have it playing as the theatre fills, is brilliant.
Having set this historical context, we meet the Players of Dieudoné who must tell and retell the autobiography (and obviously the best story ever written) of the vain King Dieudoné (William Homer). After many years, their performances are getting old; they are a bit too comfortable. One day the King notices and decides that things must change. Oh, and the King may not have been telling the full truth in his autobiography: he might actually be a bit prone to lashing out, to murder and well, he might be mad. The players are given three days to come up with a new performance, to tell the ‘second best’ story ever written, or to face execution in a variety of painful-sounding ways.
As the farce unfolds, the players consider and try out options for their new story, with mixed results for them but hilarious results for us in the audience. The script, by Hideout Theatre themselves, is funny and smart. Each turn feels right; nothing seems out of place and everything works effectively. Homer has dual duties, both playing King Dieudoné and also directing, and this is top work. The evening flows smoothly, with the play both filling the small space and using it very well. There is strong work on music from the cast and from the sound design by Shane Stewart.
I had one slight quibble, which is with an inconsistency around the character of Rick (Toby Thompson), who brings much of the change to the players. At the start, he joins – over their protest – following orders from the King’s court. Yet later, when the King and court play a more active part, there is no mention of this and Dieudoné does not know Rick. I wonder if there was a dangling plot that got cleaned up a little along the way, but leaves an unfortunate trace?
One of the themes of the show is unity: the unity of the players. This shines through, with this ensemble clearly engaged, committed and just a joy to watch, particularly in their reactions. They are hilarious throughout. I am so impressed by the talent I saw on stage here, and it’s not a case where they had one or two great actors, but everyone was truly super. Each character had a distinctive story and every one of them changed and grew in the short time we spent with them. With a cast of seven in a small pub theatre, this is hugely impressive. It would be impossible to single anyone out, so congrats to all.
There was a hint after the show that this piece may have a future following its short run at Lion & Unicorn, and as the two performances so far this week ended with standing ovations, fingers crossed these Players of Dieudoné will have a long and healthy life.
Written and produced by: Hideout Theatre
Directed by: William Homer
Additional Creatives: Chloe Cooper, Toby Thompson, Emily Cundick, William Homer, Sophie Bahari, Tijan Sarr, Ellis Green, Matt Wake
Lighting Design by: Martyn Case
Sound Design by: Shane Stewart
The Players of Dieudone plays at Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 2 July. Further information and bookings can be found here.