Farinelli and the King

Previewed 14 September 2015, Opened 29 September 2015, Closed 5 December 2015 at the Duke of York's Theatre in London

Claire van Kampen's acclaimed new play Farinelli and the King in London starring Mark Rylance - transferring to the West End following a sell-out run at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

Italy in the 1730s sees Farinelli, the world’s most famous castrato, rich, adored and lauded with honours. His divine voice has the power to captivate all who hear it. But in Spain, depressed and plagued by insomnia, King Philippe V lies awake in his chamber. The Queen, desperate to find a cure, hears of Farinelli and begs him to come and sing to the king. Even Philippe is astonished when Farinelli sings, and begs him to stay. But will Farinelli, one of the greatest celebrities of his time, choose a life of solitude over fame and fortune in the opera-houses of Europe? And will his extraordinary talent prove to be a curse rather than a blessing? This intriguing true story is re-told replete with many of the arias first sung by Farinelli.

This production - which transfers from the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse where it played from February to March 2015 - will feature music played live by musicians on Baroque instruments and, just as at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the Duke of York's Theatre will be lit almost exclusively by the glow of candlelight. The cast features Mark Rylance as 'Philippe V', reprising his role from the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse season. This production is directed by John Dove and designed by Jonathan Fensom.

When this production was originally seen at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in February 2015, Dominic Maxwell in the Times praised this "warmingly eccentric, bewitchingly musical historical comedy-drama," adding that it is "a quirky play." Michael Billington in the Guardian highlighted how "Claire van Kampen’s fascinating study of the healing impact of music on Spain’s French-born Philippe V... interweaves story and song excellently... It all makes for a richly unusual evening that not only demonstrates music’s curative power for a mad king but its ability to offer spiritual uplift to just about everyone else." Paul Taylor in the Independent said that this "beguiling first play by Claire van Kampen," is "enchantingly directed by John Dove," adding that the result is "keenly insightful about both music and melancholy, this is a beautifully wrought two-hour miniature." Neil Norman in the Daily Express described how it "is a beautifully realised theatrical version of true 18th century events... an evening of real enchantment." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard thought that "the result is a warm, witty tribute to music and its therapeutic power — which also hints at art’s potential to bewitch."

"This debut play by the composer Claire van Kampen suggests that king and castrato feel an unexpected kinship — two fabulous freaks quailing in the public gaze. Mark Rylance is delicious as the quixotic king living 'on the dreaming side of life'... Van Kampen's whimsical text, with its pasteboard secondary characters, feels more like a libretto than a play. Despite lovely grace notes — about music unleashing divinity on a turbulent world — the evening's great virtue is the way it makes space for star performers to show genius at work." The Sunday Times

"In his wife Claire van Kampen's hilariously fruity, off kilter historical comedy-drama with music, Mark Rylance reminds us why he is one of the greatest stage actors in the world... He lulls you into a sense of security with his crowdpleasing theatrics, but then the frothy baroque comedy turns into a kind of psychodrama as, on a pin, Rylance changes the cadence in his voice and takes you somewhere darker and more troubling... It's a sumptuous production, aided by the numinous candles of the intimate Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, but van Kampen is not offering some historical confection. Farinelli and the King feels like an urgent play – it is ripe with contemporary dialogue, and has an ear for sharply political euphemisms. Above all, this is a celebration of the restorative power of music and how it can transform us in our darkest hour." The Sunday Telegraph

"Clare Van Kampen's witty and touching play, amazingly her first, is an exploration of royal role-play, courtly intrigue and attitudes to insanity that is quite the equal of Alan Bennett's study of another mad 18th-century monarch, George III. Philippe's Queen engages Farinelli, the world-famous castrato, to sing for her husband. He soon learns that music has charms to soothe not only the savage breast but the despondent brow. Farinelli is tenderly played by Sam Crane in John Dove's beautifully modulated production, but the crowning glory is that the role is sung by the peerless counter-tenor Iestyn Davies, whose sublime rendition of several Baroque arias fully justifies Philippe's description of him as angelic." The Sunday Express

Farinelli and the King in London at the Duke of York's Theatre previewd from 14 September 2015, opened on 29 September 2015 and closed on 5 December 2015.