Reviews of The King's Face by Steven Young



THE KING’S FACE at Lion and Unicorn Theatre, London
By James Waygood

‘Steven Young’s skills as a playwright are laid bare in some beautifully written descriptive dialogue.’
4- Stars ****

This new play by Steven Young is loosely based on true historic events. King Henry IV has assured his crown at a bloody battle in Shrewsbury. His young son, Prince Harry of Monmouth (David Trosko), aids his father to victory, but takes a mortal blow by means of an arrow through his left cheek, leaving an arrowhead lodged in the back of his skull. As the flesh around the wound weeps and rots, Harry’s life is in peril. Left for dead by his own father after a string of brutal and unsuccessful treatments, the young monarch’s life now rests in the hands of modest surgeon John Bradmore (Graham Bowe). After much demanding, Harry convinces John to become a much-needed friend to a dying man. But can John be the acquaintance the boy monarch is looking for, as well as trying to save the life of the future King Henry V?

The play is very well written with some exquisite use of language, but also draws on character and rapport in Trosko and Bowe’s intimate stage relationship. Some of the most endearing moments exist in the pair’s intelligent yet humorous banter, which comes across as incredibly natural and organic as is seems drawn from a genuine and natural on-stage chemistry. But what make this show particularly engaging is that the audience are placed in close proximity to the performance. From there they can really pick over or get lost in the details of both playwright and performers making this a deeply involving piece of theatre.

Trosko plays well as the formidable future king; some of the most powerful moments of the play are evident when Prince Harry flips from adult seriousness and willpower, to adolescent fear and inexperience. At those moments Trosko gives his most convincing performance; they also serve to reinforce an already electrifying stage presence on Bowe’s part.

Steven Young’s skills as a playwright are laid bare in some beautifully written descriptive dialogue; of particular note are Harry’s poetic and engrossing reminiscences of battle, made all the more impressive and memorable by Trosko’s bounding panache. There are one or two spots where the play seems a little dry - such as musings on medieval politics – and others which feel a little contrived, including Harry’s enquiry as how he should ‘prepare a woman for mounting’. But those are little more than quibbles; unusual and powerfully affecting, The King’s Face is a brilliant, entertaining and exhilarating piece of theatre.


Iambic Arts Theatre (venue website)
22-23, 28-29 May, 3:00pm-4:40pm; 24-27 May, 8:00pm-9:40pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp, 4 Stars

Parental Guidance. Under-17's must be accompanied by an adult.
Warning: Contains strong language.
World Premiere.

A prince lies dying - not a swift death in battle, but the creeping doom of gangrene, spreading from an arrowhead embedded in his skull. One man, perhaps, can repair his shattered face; can save his life, and change the course of history. In this intimate two-hander, loosely based in fact, the king is the future Henry V... and surgeon John Bradmore, his only hope, becomes both his saviour and his friend.

If it's all about the prince's wounded face, then the wound itself is cleverly and elegantly portrayed. For the opening scenes, carefully-constructed dialogue and movements avoid revealing his profile - and I wondered, at first, if they’d simply wimped out of showing the injury at all. But no, it’s much smarter than that. The final, unheraled revelation is quietly horrific, yet we come to accept his bloodied scar as surely as we learn what runs through the teenage prince's troubled mind.

Despite the lack of explicit gore, there’s much in the surgeon’s agonizing treatment of Harry which is deeply uncomfortable to watch. To my surprise, though, this is an outright-entertaining play, woven through with latent wit and embellished by overt comedy scenes. As a whole, the contrasts worked – though the prince’s naïve bemusement on the mechanics of sex came close to stretching the elastic too far – and it’s a clever mirror of the unspoken premise, that the mood swings caused by his youthful injury defined the older man's reign as Henry V.

As the young prince, G David Trosko proves more than a match for what’s surely a difficult role. He flips from impish expressiveness to masterful focus, conjuring the unenviable double life of a boy who will be king; and Graham Bowe as Bradmore makes an eloquent foil, lending thoughtful gravitas as character and narrator alike. At a high level Steven Young's script is a little formulaic, building to a relationship crisis before the inevitable affirming resolution, but the wording feels perky and fresh right the way through. In one magnificently eloquent, utterly compelling monologue, the prince evokes the thrill and terror of mediaeval battle - a well-mannered tournament with a deadly conclusion, and a contradiction which, at long last, I can viscerally understand.

All in all though, The King's Face is well-conceived, well-written and supremely well-acted, with genuine insights into the half-cursed life of Shakespeare's most famous monarch. And it’s great to see a solidly traditional play find a little room for gentle innovation - the cabaret-style seating, and the way the injured prince remains on his bed in full view throughout the interval. With an intriguing topic and a deft execution, it's a play I'll be thinking about for a good while to come.

Iambic Arts Theatre, 22 May
Rating: 4 Stars
Nick Aldwinckle

LATEST 7, The Weekly Magazine for Brighton, Hove & Sussex: review http://thelatest.co.uk/7/revSteveiews-brighton-festival-fringe-the-kings-face

What with The King’s Speech’s success, US playwright Steven Young’s similarly-monikered work should do well. Still, the success of this two-header about a young Henry V will be richly deserved. Impossibly Texan David Trosko pulled off a flawless Welsh accent as Prince Harry of Monmouth before acceding the throne, with physician John Bradmore (Graham Bowe) charged with removing an arrow-head from his skull. Trosko, as the neurotic, friendless boy, convinced, especially during historically accurate life-saving medical techniques. Likewise did Bowe as dignified Bradmore, musing on friendship, family and fealty. Fine performances and subtle direction made for a compassionate look at a complex figure.