28 October 2010
THE ROYAL HUNT OF THE SUN!
"By Peter Schaffer, produced by a University of Oxford
Student Company, directed by Charlotte Beynon. "
By: A Review by Julia Gasper.
This production of Peter Schaffer’s classic play about the
Spanish conquest of Peru is an exciting event with much to
offer - spectacle, music, highly creative sets and costumes,
symbolism and dance. It is a very ambitious undertaking for
this student company and is in many ways a triumph.
Written in 1964, when some authors still wrote plays in good
English, the prose is powerful and if it sometimes rises to
rhetoric, that is totally justified by the major subject and
the scale of the tragedy it presents - the rape of one
civilization by another. The Peruvians were not wholly
innocent, noble savages: they had wars among themselves and
power struggles like anywhere else. But nothing had prepared
them for the possibility of an attack by aliens from another
continent who posed as gods, bringing guns to impose
Christianity and Spanish rule. Because they could not envisage
such an all-out attack, they were unable to defend against
Here we have some inspired sets and visual effects to create an
other-worldly atmosphere for Peru, a land where gold is
everywhere yet nobody steals it because it has no money value.
Joe Robertson as the Inca god-king Atahuallpa has to morph from
a rigid, idol-like figure into a vulnerable individual and this
role is extremely demanding. The roles of Pedro de Candia (Joe
Murphy) and Hernando de Soto (Alfred Enoch) were particularly
notable. The main weakness of this production is that the
conquering general, Francisco Pizarro, (Jacob Taee) looks too
young and simply does not speak loudly enough most of the time.
The character he is playing is a rough, no-nonsense,
no-illusions and no-scruples kind of person. He needs to look
and sound a lot more like, perhaps, Alan Sugar and much less
like Jacob Taee! Pizarro scoffs at honour, religion, and every
other noble justification for their grasping enterprise. He
wants only fame and doesn’t care how he gets it.
Schaffer’s play has not dated and acquires more layers of
meaning as the decades pass. If some in the audience want to
substitute the name Iraq for Peru and democracy for
Christianity, they may choose to see parallels with other
tragic events of more recent times. Regardless of that, it is a
searching drama that goes beyond notions of separate cultures
to re-affirm a common humanity.
This production held the audience’s attention from first to
last and I rate it as a “must-see”.
The Royal Hunt of the Sun is on at the Oxford Playhouse from
now until 30th October. http://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/