EXIT THE KING
by Felicity Fair Thompson
Performed by Graham Pountney
The stage is set: a room, bare save for a table bearing papers, wine flask and goblet and a large Bible; a plain wooden armchair and portraits on the walls, including Mary, Queen of Scots, James I and Elizabeth I – forebears of King Charles I, as he later explains.
Enter the King: exactly as you would expect him to look from the famous van Dyke portrait which is reproduced on the programme, although dressed far more plainly: the white shirt has the familiar large lace collar and cuffs but the breeches and shoes are plain black and unadorned save for the shoe buckles. This is the King in extremis – a prisoner at Whitehall and doomed to die the next day.
Immediately our sympathy is awakened by his last fatherly farewell to his children: his emotions are palpable. Yet the play does not have the sad, despairing atmosphere it might, given the circumstances: in his last night on earth, the King reminisces, and his memories are by turns funny, traumatic, dramatic and frightening.
In the person of Charles I, Graham Pountney takes the audience through the King’s life, from his childhood in Scotland through to the events of the Civil War. This is a slice of English history delivered in an entertaining way, from the point of view of one of our most interesting monarchs and one who – as the narrative references – has a close connection with the Isle of Wight. Indeed, one of the most memorable moments is Charles’ description of his abortive attempt to escape from Carisbrooke Castle, and how, realising there were soldiers guarding his escape route, he ran back to his room to pretend to be awoken from slumber by John Hammond, his erstwhile friend and now guardian, coming in to find out where he was.
Exit the King will be staged again at 6pm on 11th and 12th August at the Pier Street Playhouse (Ventnor Baptist Church) – last night’s performance was sold out, so get in quickly if you don’t want to miss this gem!