What do an unfinished film script, a broken Royal Worcester porcelain figure of the Duke of Wellington on horseback and the refugee crisis have in common? Shôn Dale-Jones weaves all three together in his charmingly funny, earnest and poignant one-man show, The Duke.
This play is full of heart. Dale-Jones personally greets all audience members upon arrival, establishing an informal and personal tone that is reinforced by the house lights staying up and occasional audience interaction throughout. This level of intimacy is not for everyone, however, Dale-Jones preempts any awkwardness with his boundless charisma. Immensely comfortable, he sits at a desk with a laptop, a microphone, and some equipment for him to do his own tech.
From this bare stage, Dale-Jones spins a remarkably engaging and imaginative story. He begins with Luis Buñuel’s famous line: “Fantasy and reality are equally personal, and equally felt, so their confusion is only a matter of relative importance.” This foreshadows his blurring of fantasy and reality in an improbable coincidental tale that takes place over a single weekend. Grappling with themes of artistic integrity, loneliness and value, Dale-Jones gently encourages us to consider our comfortable lives, and the lives of our loved ones, in relation to the lives of the millions of displaced and desperate asylum seekers worldwide.
The execution isn’t always smooth, but the performance is so playful that it doesn’t need to be. At one stage, the unmistakable sound of an email arriving into Dale-Jones’ inbox is heard. Not missing a beat, Dale-Jones wondered aloud about whether or not he should read it, earning him one of the loudest laughs of the evening. There were many other humorous moments in this remarkably funny play, particularly the suggested improvements to his unfinished script, the pre-recorded voice-over sound effects and Dale-Jones’ imitations of his parents’ dulcet Welsh tones.
The real achievement of this play is that it practices what it preaches. After an entertaining hour that subtly assuages our compassion fatigue, Dale-Jones provides buckets for donations to help the Syrian refugees themselves. So far, The Duke has raised nearly £50,000 for Save the Children’s Emergency Fund.
Overall, The Duke is a wondrous play with a heart of gold. It will leave you wondering what you value in this world, and with an overwhelming urge to call your mum.
Runs 3rd – 5th April
Image: Brian Roberts