King David's Wives

The Old Testament story of King David is quite a romp. For a highly-revered shepherd-turned-king, David was extremely badly behaved. But those were different days, so a show about the King’s various wives – plural – means simultaneous marriages, not successive ones. Taking inspiration from the First and Second Books of Samuel and the First Book of Kings, Mary Callan has created a Bible storytelling show for grown-ups – not quite the stuff of Sunday School.

If you want Bible-storytelling that doesn’t dig too deep at the nasty, complex, or paradoxical parts of ancient scripture, this show, billed as ‘Almost a Musical,’ is for you.

Assisted by Libby Redman, who provides musical links and piano accompaniment while playing the role of Abishag (the newest recruit to the Harem), Callan takes us through various episodes of King David’s sordid life. We learn about his many wives, his peculiar relationship with Jonathan, and his mourning of his son Absalom, whose death was a result of political and family wrangling. We are also told of King David raping, fighting, and of his Machiavellian plan to get Uriah the Hittite killed in battle so that he can have – in the Biblical sense – Bathsheba.

The playing space consists of a raised dais in an upper room in St Cuthbert’s Church with a piano to one side. A colourful line of scarves are draped along the back. Callan plays ten different characters, using a different scarf for each, which gives the narrative colour and flow. Spoken word is interspersed with song, performed by both Callan and Redman. The songs use simple, mainly chordal accompaniment and rather undeveloped melodic structure, but they are perhaps meant to be more recitativo than arioso. The main flaw is in the ill-matched singing voices: Callan performs in a sort of ‘Sprechstimme’ – half sung/spoken and loosely rhythmic – while Redman’s more powerful voice comes across as belted in comparison.

There is potential in developing the show’s musical aspect, but Callan would be better sticking to her strength, which is storytelling, not singing. There is also, perhaps, a missed opportunity to dwell on some of the particularly nasty elements and perhaps give a contemporary relevance to this very old story. If you want Bible-storytelling that doesn’t dig too deep at the nasty, complex, or paradoxical parts of ancient scripture, this show, billed as ‘Almost a Musical,’ is for you. 

Reviews by J. A. Sutherland

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★★★
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★★★★
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King David's Wives

★★★
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★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Blazing Grannies’ F.Mary Callan returns to Edinburgh, after her 3 * and 4 * debut last year. King David's Wives, her new one-woman show, brings us a cavalcade of distraught wives and grizzled courtiers, recounting David's exploits from bandit chief to respected elder statesman. Accompanist Libby Redman creates shifting moods. Simple songs explore women's strategies for coping with tragedy and change. In the background loom the big questions: what is God's role and who will inherit the kingdom? A gentle yet challenging hour, with two great performers.