BWW Review: THE KING IN YELLOW, The Lion And Unicorn Theatre
The first lethal chamber has just been opened in Washington Square. The novelty shakes the young bohemians who, as they address the corruption of art and soul, become entranced by a mysterious book.
Based on Robert W. Chambers's Victorian collection of short stories, The King in Yellow is a gripping piece of theatre that unfortunately feels too fragmented to reach its goals. Castiagne investigates the effects of the book and the play within, slowly spiraling into his own world of annihilation and enigmas.
Josephine Czarnecki and Darwin Garrett's adaptation leaves much of the background and intrinsic cohesiveness of the anthology out of the staged show, putting any explanations or backstory to the audience to figure out. They, however, manage to imbue it with an eerie atmosphere that's essential to the outcome. The ensemble has a couple of weaker links that don't fulfill its potential, but also sees Zuzana Spacirova standing out as a detailed and well-rounded performer.
A smooth direction that includes evocative movement pieces relating to the tome and its irresistible influence saves the show from falling flat at this stage. It would completely recover it from its issues in unity with the final scene, but the gaps in characterisation are too large for it to hold the weight it should.
Death pervades the production in many forms: the shadow of the lethal chamber is ever present in the mind of the characters, and the destruction of life becomes vivid in Boris's "pool of death" that turns living things into marble-like art. The subjugation to the volume becomes stronger as the episodes unfold, with plenty of (perhaps unintentional here) hints to Dorian Gray and his own Yellow Book.
Overall, the play probably isn't as convincing in its mythology because of its lack of a solid set-up, which makes it feel slightly incomplete, almost as if we were watching snippets of a bigger project. The ground it covers is certainly fascinating and the company is on the right path to turn The King in Yellow in a dark exploration of belief, sanity, and blind trust.