Nick Dear’s “Power” tells of the rise to power of the absolutist King Louis XIV of France, the fabled ‘Sun King’. The play opens with the young King literally clutching at the skirt of his mother and regent, Anne of Austria, exclaiming, “Mother, I am afraid”, and ends with the Sun King, as an absolute monarch, surrounding himself with grand palaces and extravagant ornate gardens with which to display his kingly glory.
The first act introduces us to a beguiling group of characters: The caustic Anne of Austria, who happily manipulates behind the scenes and is willing to condone any impropriety so long as appearances are not compromised; Phillipe, the King’s dissolute brother, who was raised dressed as a girl by his mother so as to ensure he would never be a rival to his older brother; Nicolas Fouquet, the rich Superintendent of Finance who despite his wealth and position is jittery about his reputation at court and Colbert the ensnaring courtier who schemes Fouquet's downfall.
Despite the wonderfully salacious characters the first act plods along with little to recommend it. It tells us of the regent King’s growing dissatisfaction. He is forced to borrow money from his courtier Nicholas Fouquet, and when he beds his brother’s wife his interfering mother schemes behind his back to ensure proper protocol is ‘seen’ to be enforced and he finds it difficult to choose a new first minister due to rivalries in his court. However, despite the vacuous of the first act it does succeed in preparing the way for the richer plot of the second, which allows the characters to mature into rich three-dimensional people, with more than just idiosyncratic mannerism with which to embellish themselves.
Rupert Penny-Jones as King Louis XIV brings the show to life when he casts off his mother as regent, and begins to govern for himself. We see him grow more insolent and vain as his childish petulance turns into vengeful spite and jealousy. He will not allow others to outshine him, and it is this obsession that proves to be the undoing of Nicholas Fouquet.
Robert Lindsay gives a terrific performance as Nicholas Fouquet, the rich but insecure courtier. Fouquet longs for greater prestige and wealth, and is willing to offer the most outrageous flatteries to ingratiate himself into royal favour, flatteries that Lindsay delivers with great panache. He swaggers with an over-confident charm and then momentarily slumps into moments of self-doubt and anxiety. He is unprepared for the transformation in King Louis, and makes the mistake of living in a more lavish palace, dressing as the sun god Apollo when he invites the King to a garden party and of seeking the position of First Minister. As far as the King is concerned there is only space for one sun in the French firmament, and Fouquet will not be allowed to eclipse him.
Stephen Boxer is disagreeably smarmy as Colbert the courtier who obsesses over books and mathematics and is determined to expose Fouquet as a crook who has stole from the King. Barbara Jefford is a terrifying Anne of Austria, who ruthlessly contrives to control not only the courtiers but also both her sons. Jonathan Slinger is also impressive as the King’s outrageous libertine brother, Phillipe, who loves nothing more than to dress in a pretty frock and compete with his wife for the attention of male courtiers.
A comedy about corruption and absolute power that whilst sluggish to begin with oozes with comic vigour throughout the second act.
Production photos Ivan Kyncl
Notices from the popular press....
RACHEL HALLIBURTON for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "[Robert]Lindsay is most enjoyable." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Arresting production." And goes on to say "Lindsay lights up the bare stage." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, " Witty, elegant and strikingly well acted."