Once In Royal David’s City @ State Theatre Centre

Photo Credit: Phillip Gostelow

Photo Credit: Phillip Gostelow

Director: Sam Strong

Playwright: Michael Gow

Produced by: Black Swan State Theatre Company & Queensland Theatre Company

Cast: Jason Klarwein, Adam Booth, Penny Everingham et al.


The title is a hell of a tongue twister and a reference to an obscure Christmas carol that one may have never encountered in childhood, but don’t let that detract from a what is a very good piece of performance theatre.

Once In Royal David’s City is a story about Will Drummond (Jason Klarwein), an idealistic and at times pretentious theatre director trying to make sense of his life and his place in the world when he has to come to terms with the impending death of his mother, not long after he had lost his own father- and it is also Christmas time. To cope with these turn of events Will muses on the writings of German playwright Bertolt Brecht and Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and his faith in Christianity.

The play owes a lot to Brecht himself, to a point of homage, utilizing his style of staging- the ‘alienation effect’ often referenced throughout- where the actors would move props into the blank stage as the scene transitions, and frequently breaking the fourth wall to lecture directly to the audience. Whether the motifs of religion, Christmas and Marxism come too strongly is a matter of personal taste, though arguably one could point out that it is in character at the very least. There are also many moments of joy and levity that break up the heavy and somber themes that anchor the play.

The production aspects of the play looks and feels like money and effort has been put into it- even when one considers the style of the play’s staging. The aural aspects aren’t really utilized, aside from the background Christmas carol cheer (for the purposes of setting) and the pre-recorded choir tracks, but it doesn’t need to. The performances are excellent, and don’t miss a beat, given that each actor plays multiple roles (standard in contemporary theatre practice).

Once In David’s Royal City is a play with genuine, well-crafted, touching scenes, and ponders on the human condition, whilst not delivering it in a way that feels forced. Whilst to a good portion of the audience, the high art references may fly over heads, or find an introductory lesson in Marxism 101 a bit cringeworthy, it’s still worth the time to see the talent on stage.

(Once in David's Royal City runs until 9th of April)

Clayton Lin