Star rating - 9/10
King John is one of the lesser performed and lesser known of Shakespeare's history plays, so new adaptations like the current RSC one can feel freer to take a few liberties with the original text, with less risk of pedants moaning. And while the historical plot in this production, directed by Maria Aberg, is easy enough to follow, I'm not sure what the Bard would have made of the actors channelling Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey doing their Dirty Dancing routine in the middle of it...but I absolutely adored it.
John is not perhaps the most well remembered or best loved of the English monarchs. Possibly you might think of the Magna Carta - maybe not much else. The story here is concerned with the attempts to seize the crown from him by supporters of his elder brother's son. And it also follows the power play between England, France and the Pope. And there are many parallels with our modern day politicians to be drawn here - with the frail pact between the two nations showing an uncanny resemblance to our current coalition bedfellows; and the pursuit of power for its own sake by a flawed individual bearing all the hallmarks of a certain former Prime Minister Brown.
Following on from last year's wonderfully luxurious Vegas version of The Merchant of Venice, the RSC have totally sexed up this play, and use the carefully picked musical tracks to brilliant effect. Alex Waldmann, confidently plays King John as a beautiful specimen of a man, and in a much more sympathetic light then maybe Shakespeare intended. The partner in his exploits was originally a man, Philip Faulconbridge (known lovingly as The Bastard). But here, he is most definitely a she, and Pippa Nixon is one of the standout things about this production, as she impishly pulls the strings and uses her sexual allure to great effect. The chemistry between her and the forlorn king is thrillingly palpable.
It's amusing to note how Shakespeare was using the play for his own political ends too - as he so often did. His own mistress, Queen Elizabeth I was having her own battles with the papacy - indeed she was branded as a heretic by the Pope. And Shakespeare wastes no time in getting his digs in via his treatment of the papal envoy here.
And the play has one of the most exhilarating endings I have seen for a long while - King John cavorting sexily around to Franki Valli's Beggin' as he dies a slow horrible death by poison. The whole thing was breathtaking, and great, great fun. I know it won't be to everyone's tastes (sorry Mum!), but I loved it - so who cares if a few liberties were taken.