Theatre review - The Kingdom

Three men face the audience, surrounded by huge piles of rubble and rough-hewn rocks. They are clutching shovels and a pick-axe – the tools of their trade. They are nameless, distinguished only by age. There is a Young Man (Anthony Delaney), a middle-aged Man (Owen O’Neill) and an Old Man (Gary Lilburn) and they all have the same story to tell.

Drawing on the experiences of Irish migrant workers in 1950s Britain and threading the Greek myth of Oedipus into their tales, Colin Teevan has fashioned an intriguing play around big subjects: love, loss, violence, incest and betrayal.

THE KINGDOM begins at a crossroads and ends at a metaphorical junction. A young Irishman flees the brutal industrial school where he was raised. But en route to finding work as a navvy in England, he kills a man. He escapes punishment, marries, makes his fortune and builds his “kingdom”, but years later he discovers that the man he murdered was the father he never knew and his wife is also his mother. An old tinker’s curse has come true and is to be his ruin.

As this convoluted tragedy unfolds, the men continue to dig. The audience has to concentrate because the three actors share multiple parts. It is not immediately obvious, for example, that Delaney is playing a younger incarnation of O Neill’s character.

Teevan’s script has all the makings of great drama, but something gets lost in the transition to stage. Despite sterling performances, it is not always easy to follow the complex and multi-layered plot. Lucy Pitman-Wallace’s 75-minute production has plenty of atmosphere but we also need enough space to digest Teevan’s wonderfully lyrical dialogue, whether he’s evoking life in England for Irish immigrants, in particular the hard graft and casual racism that they endured, or the doomed marriage at the play’s heart.

Nevertheless, THE KINGDOM is an inventive take on the Oedipus myth and if you enjoy provocative theatre that rewards close attention this production hits the mark.

The Kingdom runs at Soho Theatre until 17 November 2012

Review originally published by Theatreworld