The Young King: Trade In Your Riches, Rulers!

The Young King: Trade In Your Riches, Rulers!
CherylF, Hazel

CherylF & Hazel.

By CherylF

The Young King is an experiential theatrical adventure for children ages 8 and up by Slingsby playing at the New Victory theatre. The production, which won the International Performing Arts for Youth Showcase Victor Award (People’s Choice), aims to introduce and explore themes of poverty and privilege to the unsuspecting youths of the present. Slingsby’s The Young King was also a 2016 Helpmann Award Nominee for Best Presentation for Children, so we were primed for something quite special.

The Young KingThe ticket suggests that you arrive to the theatre up to 30 min before curtain.  So, that’s what we did, this mother/daughter team likes to comply.  Hazel, my very mature and enthusiastic 6-year-old and I decided to forgo the age recommendations and arrived in the lobby prepared to be engaged and amazed. We were greeted with much pomp, taught a proper bow for greeting The Young King, and handed a card, which assigned us to a group, “Industrious Denizens of the South” (the other groups names are “Gritty Prospectors of the West”, “Gruff Forest-Folk of the East”, and “Rough Fisher-Folk of the North“), and with this we were ushered to the lower lobby and given complimentary refreshments.

We then waited for our group to be called up from the lobby.  It didn’t feel like a typical theatre lobby experience, and I was unsure if I should expect something more akin to medieval times. While in my taste there is a place for all sorts of entertainment, I was left feeling a little unsure of what to expect, though game to enjoy anything with my young future frontmezzjunkie, Hazel.

For her part, Hazel seemed excited although a little unsure.  She is used to a bustling lobby with ushers guiding us to our assigned seats, yet at this moment, she seemed uneasy.  Once our group was called, we were led into a dark hallway where actors engaged us directly and got us “ready” to meet the Young King.  We stopped by a “costuming” room where we made our own crowns, and some chocolates were served to us on a tray.  We wound a circuitous path around the backstage of the lovely and intimate New Victory Theatre where little secrets seemed to surprise us at every turn. When we were finally allowed to our seats, we couldn’t help but be prepped and ready.

The adventure of pre-show preparation helped to prime the audience for what was to come, and funneled the children’s energy into a tiny point of focus, ready to play and fully engage in the show. Throughout the pre-show, the actors reinforced that he was a spoiled Young King and that we should remember our proper bow when we meet him.  This constant reinforcement, led me to expect some sort of tantrumous outburst from the Young King (Tim Overton), but it never came (he seemed meek,  mischievous, playful, and kind); and though the actors were engaging with the audience the whole time, it didn’t actually start until 3:25, which was probably 10 minutes too long for this kind of audience.

Tim Overton

Tim Overton. All photos courtesy of The New Victory Theater, Photo credit: Andy Rasheed.

Based on a story by the incomparable Oscar Wilde (An Ideal Husband, The Importance of Being Earnest), and delicately adapted by Nicki Bloom, this play is about a Young King who is enamored by beautiful things and has designed a crown, scepter, and coronation robe harvested from the wealth of the kingdom.  On the eve of his coronation, he is visited by three disturbing dreams that illuminate how the gold, rubies, and pearls that he desired for his coronation costume are actually harvested from the unfair treatment of his struggling subjects. This leads to revelation about what is truly valuable to him and he eventually makes the choice to leave the kingdom behind. Bloom manages to utilize much of Wilde’s language, while transforming it into a theatrical retelling elevating the story’s challenging questions about right and wrong, forging your own destiny, and finding the strength and conviction to stand up for yourself, even when you don’t have to.

Jacqy Phillips, Tim Overton

Jacqy Phillips, Tim Overton. Photo credit: Andy Rasheed.

The dreams as directed by Andy Packer, were beautiful if a smidge scary and macabre. I think this is where my 6-year old became a bit lost.  An 8-year old may have an easier time with some of these concepts.  At the conclusion of the show, the Young King decides to forgo the wealth and the crown to enter into the beauty of the unknown with the knowledge and the humanity of those who raised him. Hazel was unclear about why he surrendered the wealth and beautiful objects; she found it hard to see the mythology of the dreams as a real glimpse into how the precious gifts came to be.  The dreams were scary for Hazel and the concept of dreams as a clarifying vision of truth was a leap she was not emotionally and perhaps psychologically prepared to make. It led to a deeper discussion following the show about wealth, power, and privilege, and I am happy that at the ripe old age of six, The Young King gave us an opportunity to discuss privilege, power, responsibility in a context to which she can relate.

The set was a feast of surprises, designed by Wendy Todd, with a lovely mantle over a massive fireplace that was transformed throughout the play. It contained secret compartments and drawers that held secrets and set pieces used in a thrilling kabuki style. The cast effortlessly turned ordinary objects manipulated by hand into a beautiful feast for our imagination that no modern technology could match.

Tim Overton, Jacqy Phillips

Tim Overton, Jacqy Phillips. Photo credit: Andy Rasheed.

Adding to the impact of this lovely story was the musical accompaniment written and performed by Quincy Grant.  The score performed onstage throughout the show was a welcome companion to the actors. Hazel reacts very strongly to musical cues and immediately covered her ears when any suspenseful or dark music played. She was particularly impressed when Grant turned around front the piano and began to play the clarinet.  It was magical for her to see such an array of talents play out on stage.

The small cast of two seasoned actors showed their multitude of talents changing physically and vocally on a dime. There is nothing campy or reductive in the acting; it is mature, thoughtful, and subtle.  Jacqy Phillips, who alters herself over and over again, is an absolute chameleon.  She and Tim Overton creatively traversed set and character changes adding a gymnastic excitement to the production.  Lighting designed by Geoff Cobham was like another actor in the show, illuminating and highlighting important elements of the story.  Cobham’s imaginative lighting awed the children and ensured the young audience did not miss one important detail.  The actors created silhouettes that danced about the theatre and reminded us of the pure imaginative play that a light and a paper puppet can bring.

There was nothing saccharin or simple about the production of this children’s show. It asked a lot of the audience, it did not spoon-feed or pander to the lowest common denominator. I appreciate that as a parent and theatre lover. I exited the theatre as one does after a yoga class, a bit entranced and fulfilled with the assurance that I had flexed a muscle that I had not engaged in a while.


Hazel for frontmezzjunkies

My one criticism of the experience as a whole is that gifts and giveaways enchant the children, but at some point, it undermines the imaginative nature of the show. We don’t need the card, the snacks and water, the chocolate, and the corn.  In the end, it felt a bit insecure and undermined the message of the play. The show was gift enough.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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