The King of Taking
Presented by: Kallo Collective and A Mulled Whine
Created by: Thom Monckton
Circa Theatre, 21st Mar 2023
Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson
I was lucky enough to see Thom Monckton’s The Artist in 2020 in my first foray back to live theatre since the pandemic began. I remember summarising the show as “one man procrastinates making art for an hour”, which, sure, doesn’t sound all that interesting. But in the hands of this consummate physical theatre performer, I noted that The Artist was one of the most engaging solo performances I’d ever seen.
The King of Taking is no different, with a summary that could feasibly read: King spends 35 minutes walking to a table to spend another 35 minutes opening presents. I have very few plot points to report and very little dialogue to dissect, save, perhaps, for the syllabic stress on the name “Jonathan”. And yet I could write for days about how every minute, every moment of The King of Taking is a highlight.
Looming centre stage is a stately throne (production design by Gemma Tweedie, set realised by Lucas Neal) that allows for many gags I don’t want to spoil here. Props like candlesticks, rope pulleys, and rolls of red carpet are further instruments of amusement. Clever lighting (Neal) and sound (Amanda Maclean) cues accentuate Monckton’s physical comedy as he makes excellent use of everything around him. This extends to not just the set pieces but to the gifts bestowed on him by the audience prior to the show – a unique concept I’ve not seen on stage before.
Monckton speaks a thousand unscripted words with the mere twitch of a lip, the bat of an eyelash, with an energy that intensifies when it comes time to open the King’s presents. His portrayal of all-consuming, childlike joy that borders on madness emphasises themes of greed, corruption, and power. In short, of taking. This resonates the loudest when the King continues to tear open his gifts without a thought for the wellbeing of his surprise guest, Tess Sullivan. What a showstopping cameo.