He has played the Adelaide Festival as The Artist and, back in 2016, the much-lamented Croquet Club as The Pianist. Now, the inimitable Thom Monckton is The King of Taking. A preposterous figure in none-too splendid isolation, he is the Mr Bean of hopeless monarchs, and delivers a slapstick routine that draws gasps of smirking pleasure.

Monckton’s comedy is painstaking and cleverly extruded to its very limits. Who can forget him taking six long minutes just to get through the stage curtains in The Pianist? And then a multitude of further tribulations to reach the keyboard.

In The King of Taking, there is an open empty stage with a long curtain at stage left.  At centre is a high narrow throne with Gothic trimmings and red velvet. The publicity promises plenty of velvet, and the rolls of carpet stacked around the throne do not disappoint. Two red wall lights and a candelabra complete the décor.

There is a large lump covered in drapery on the floor in front of the throne and it starts to wriggle and move across the stage and behind the curtain. This is yet another protracted arrival. Trumpet fanfares repeat and re-set over and over as the mystery figure flails behind the curtain. Eventually he glides in from stage left like a low-slung motorboat. It is surreal, comical and the perfect visual gag.

Rising to his full lanky height he is dressed in a skinny, baggy, white onesie, and drags an elaborate particoloured velvet robe trailing jester’s ribbons. Around his neck he wears a clown’s ruffle, on his head a yellow paper crown. The king, complete with ginger beard and an un-majestic agitation, has arrived.

Getting on to his high throne is another matter, and at one point he disappears head first, with only his feet showing – like in a classic Tex Avery cartoon. The timing and the mute consternation, mixed with smug self-importance, is delicious to watch. It’s hard to know which is funnier – the predictability or the surprise.

The king imperiously calls for his courtiers. There are three ropes available, possibly to summon them. One is a bell, another a blackout light switch, the third could be anything. He doesn’t speak except to summon. “Jonathan,” he calls in 50 shades of forlorn urgency as he tries to have a red carpet rolled out, or a trumpet fanfare, or a single splash of cymbal. Edward, Abigail and Philip are also called, with varying success, to serve this feckless king.

For 50 minutes the complications multiply and the sight gags, sudden-death pratfalls, and the slings and arrows of sudden misfortune bring continuous fun. Thom Monckton has a rare and inventive gift for witty clowning. This royal show is definitely for the taking.

The King of Taking is playing at The Studio, Holden Street Theatres, until March 5. Note:  Patrons are invited to bring this greedy king a small wrapped gift to share in the improvised fun.

Read more 2023 Adelaide Fringe stories and reviews on InReview here.

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