The concept of The Three Kings, a modern take on the three wise men – who, in this tale, took the form of three delivery boys with parcels for Tackle, whose birthday falls on December 25th – is a clever one.
Tackle and Block are just two builders, out having a drink in their local watering hole to see in Christmas – hardly riveting material at a first glance, but that’s where writer (and philosopher) Gordon Rider comes in.
The story itself is unbelievable: a man whose birthday is on Christmas day receiving three parcels from delivery boys who ‘followed the star’ to the pub to find him. Not only that, but the parcels appear to be updated versions of gold, frankincense and myrrh: in this tale, that’s cash, perfume and medication.
Rider walks the fine line between comedy and authenticity with ease: these are two ordinary men suddenly thrust into an extraordinary situation, and the writing shifts in pace and dynamic almost every other line.
In the wrong hands, this play could have been a disaster. It’s a three-hander in need of actors with talent enough to play the lines not for laughs but for meaning, and conversely to play the pauses for laughs. Thank goodness, then, that The Three Kings was gifted with such a stellar cast in Antony Eden, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Vanessa-Faye Stanley.
With only a forty minute running time, a minimalist set and the front row of the audience a mere three feet away, the trio had their work cut out for them: every look, every line, had to be timed to perfection.
For Thomas Brodie-Sangster, The Three Kings marked only his second stage outing, but you could be forgiven for thinking he had been a stage actor since birth. Able to convey more in a single look than most actors can manage in a full soliloquy, Brodie-Sangster was a force to be reckoned with as Tackle. Already well-established as one to watch in the world of film, Brodie-Sangster has now cemented his status as one to watch in the world of theatre, too.
Of course, Tackle is only one half of the duo at the centre of the play. Played by Antony Eden, Block – as his name would suggest – is less open-minded than his drinking buddy and more cynical. With curses and insults peppering his speech throughout, in the wrong hands Block could have been little more than a vehicle for laughs, but with Eden at the helm he became a complex, even loveable, character.
Completing the play’s trio was Vanessa-Faye Stanley as Melanie, a barmaid with dreams of becoming a dancer. The absurdity of her Albatross-inspired routines were played off to perfection with the assistance of her cast-mates; their straight-faced – and often crass – responses helped to keep these scattered interludes funny rather than surreal, another testament to these actors’ talents.
Stanley also deserves credit for playing the three delivery boys, some of her changes so quick that some audience members checked their programmes to see if there was an additional cast member.
For those whose ears are easily offended, The Three Kings may cause a cringe or two, but none of the cursing feels gratuitous, it all feels entirely believable. Pauses were unforced, the dialogue flowed freely and the friendship between Tackle and Block oscillated between confusing and touching as they joked, bickered and, finally, parted ways.
For forty minutes, the audience in the St James’ Studio Theatre were not tired workers looking for some light relief on their lunch breaks; they were regulars in a local pub on Christmas Eve, flies on the wall of a discussion that touched on faith, life, love and even pizza.
With enough hilarity, heart and soul to thaw even the frostiest hearts on a cold winter’s day, The Three Kings was a Christmas treat I hope to see returning to the festive stage for many years to come.
Review by Emily Scotcher
Damont Productions present The Three Kings
A new play by Gordon Rider
(Strong language and adult themes. Recommended for ages 16+)
Thomas Brodie Sangster (Game of Thrones, Love Actually, The Maze Runner) returns to the studio following his appearance in The Summer of Love to play the role of Tackle in the new Christmas themed comedy, with Antony Eden (Woman in Black) as Block and Vanessa-Faye Stanley (War Horse) as Melanie.
14th – 19th December 2015
ST. JAMES THEATRE
12 Palace Street,
London, SW1E 5JA.