Through October 12
VICTORY Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre/Shaw Festival
The Shaw Festival version of Howard Barker’s tale of the early days of King Charles II is profane, violent and sexual (sometimes combined) and infused with strong performances, particularly Martha Burns.
For Americans, this tale of the “Merry Monarch” can be confusing.
It’s not a story we’re familiar with, the king put on the throne after a theocratic experiment failed.
Charles Stuart (Tom McCamus) loved the fun of power, the women, the parties, the women, the splendor.
George Bernard Shaw looked at that side of the king in his play “In Good King Charles’ Golden Days,” a past production at the Shaw.
Behind the scenes was a dark and bloody tale of revenge, the hunt for the dozens of men who had put his father, King Charles I, on trial and executed him, usually called the regicides.
The heir to the throne tried continuing the civil war his father had fatally lost and fled to France and exile.
The eventual incompetence of Richard Cromwell led to a decision in Parliament to bring back a king.
The regicides were exempted from the amnesty passed by Parliament to bring the king back.
The three principal figures were exhumed, their heads chopped off and put on pikes for public exhibition and the bodies were discarded.
For the rest, the hounds went out after them on a trail of murder over decades.
The hunt even extended to this side of the Atlantic, since at least three came to New England to escape.
The locals in the colonies made sure the refugees weren’t sent back to the king’s justice.
The central character of Barker’s tale is the Widow Bradshaw (Burns), widow of the judge who presided over the king’s trial and who was dug up and chopped up after the king returned.
She was harassed by the king’s supporters and her son changed his name to McConochie (Michael Man) and changed the course of his life away from the law to medicine and hid out in plain sight.
Bradshaw’s daughter hid out in marriage and wasn’t chased by the king’s forces.
There’s also Patrick Galligan’s Scrope, who was apparently some sort of secretary to the trial and would like to see the king’s murder campaign go away because it gets near to him.
He helps Bradshaw get away and attempt to create a new life in the periphery of the royal house, as an employee of one of the king’s mistresses, Devonshire (Sara Topham).
She’s also raped by an aide to the king, Ball (Tom Rooney), and becomes pregnant by him and is forced to marry by the king.
The king was often distracted by his amours and his closest associates were trying to do for him what the king wasn’t doing, perhaps because even he could see there were limits to the public tolerance of his tangled private life and spending of the public treasury.
That’s especially visible when the palace guard meets in the vaults of the Bank of England to have a few pops, count the gold bars and plan to do those things the king wouldn’t do for himself.
The king turns up to show the gold off to compliant women and stumbles over the boys having that party and questions what is going on when he can’t see them all.
“Victory” is confused and never clear where Barker is headed in this tale, although he’s known for that.
Director Tim Carroll had any resources he wanted for the show since he’s the Shaw’s artistic director.
He has strong acting performances in Burns, Galligan, McCamus, Gray Powell’s Hambro and Topham’s Devonshire and Rachel Forbes’ spare design in the Studio, reminiscent of the old Court House,
Carroll’s decision to shift the bank vault scene to another room in the Shaw complex and have the entire audience leave the theater, walk down a set of stairs and into another room is strange.
For Act Two, the paying customers return to the Studio.
“Victory” is worth seeing for Burns and this bloody look at a king who didn’t completely lose himself to wine, women and song and spending the taxpayers’ gold.
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