Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: King John, Rendered Retina, Prague Fringe 2024 ★★★★☆

Fancy leaping through three hours of what’s considered to be Shakespeare’s worst play in just one? No? Well the good news is that Rendered Retina have done the heavy lifting for you, and all you have to do is sit back, relax, and be dazzled by the trio’s infectious energy. With flippant fancy and a heavy dose of verve, we’re treated to a spectacular reimagining of King John – the story of a King who goes to war against a French-backed pretender to the English throne.

Talk about thinking outside the box – Rendered Retina have decided to take pretty much everything out of the box – the box being in the middle of the stage it should be said. Like a Mary Poppins bag, the trio reach into this centrepiece to pull out a seemingly endless number of hats designed to represent any of the twenty-strong list of character in the piece. Alongside that, the box transforms into a castle, a prison, a battleground, all-sorts. This piece is endlessly playful and consistently inventive in the way it takes a nosedive into the narrative.

The three players, Tom Mangan, Alex Mangan, and Jordan Choi, all duck, dive and leap boundlessly around the stage, throwing hats onto each other’s heads to send them into the bodies of different characters – sometimes with a tongue-in-cheek groan as they realise they have to play the baddies or the wrong’uns. The piece is interwoven with a series of songs, and is performed throughout in a sort of melodic verse. There’s not a moment wasted, nor a second used without the audience’s entertainment at heart.

While the story is condensed, sometimes it can still come across that the trio have decided to take the long way round to explain the events on stage. A long choreographed battle scene is self-admittedly imagined from in between the lines of Shakespeare’s works, and while it doesn’t progress the story much it is so endlessly fun to watch. Every movement is crafted clownishly to maximise the amount of joy in the room.

This is deeply satisfying to watch unfold, and yet we’re never distracted from the ethos of the piece – to highlight that while this isn’t Shakespeare’s greatest-regarded work by the masses, there’s plenty of fun to be found in it, and that taste in the Bard’s work can be plenty more subjective than the canonical orthodoxy.

And if that wasn’t enough, the gang join together to do a thirty second recap at the end of it all, thus proving the plot can even be smattered out in an even shorter piece of time. It’s hard not to fall into the gleeful atmosphere the whole fanfare creates, and to also fall in love a little bit more with one of the Bard’s least loved works.

Fast and frantic, soulful and silly – King John offers up a whiplash-inducing jolly good time.

Recommended Drink: Tackle King John with a flagon of Mead, of course.

Performances of King John have now concluded at Prague Fringe. Keep up with Rendered Retina online for future showings.

Jake Mace

Our Lead Editor & Edinburgh Editor. Jake loves putting together reviews that try to heat-seek the essence of everything they watch. They are interested in New Writing, Literary Adaptations, Musicals, Cabaret, and Stand-Up. Jake aims to cover themes like Class, Nationality, Identity, Queerness, and AI/Automation.

Festivals: EdFringe (2018-2024), Brighton Fringe (2019), Paris Fringe (2020), VAULT Festival (2023), Prague Fringe (2023-24), Dundee Fringe (2023)
Pronouns: They/Them