Greeting you with a handshake as you enter, Schôn Dale-Jones and his piece,
The Duke is still every bit as emotional and imaginative, apposite and evocative.
At its generous and open heart is an exploration of Dale-Jones’s relationship with his mother. She calls him with the distressing news that she has broken the porcelain figure of the Duke of Wellington on horseback bought by Dale-Jones’s father in 1974 for £750 (and worth over £8000 in today’s money). Two other seemingly disparate stories are touchingly interwoven: Dale-Jones struggles with a film script that has been his labour of love over the last ten years, and listens to radio reports on the perilous passage of migrant boats from Turkey to Greece.
The refugee crisis was highly topical when The Duke originally came to the Edinburgh Fringe as a piece of new writing in 2016. One might expect it then to feel slightly rehashed, but the tragic plight of millions displaced by deadly international conflicts should not have left our minds, and in this respect The Duke is still hugely pertinent.
This show has an important message, and is inventive about how it gets its audience to engage actively with it. Dale-Jones encourages the audience to dig deep at the end of the performance to raise money for Save the Children. Choosing what you pay, rather than having money donated from ticket sales, forces you to directly and personally confront your conceptions of value. It’s hard-hitting social commentary with a real emotional pull.
Luckily, as it's a one-man show, Dale-Jones is wonderfully endearing; you can't help but like a performer who enthuses about how lovely his audience is. This unscripted comment was one thing he said that I felt certain he really meant (within a show that professes to blur fact and fiction), with nothing of the throwaway sense of the stand-up comic warming up the crowd. The storytelling is enchanting, set to a slick soundscape that Dale-Jones himself controls (for financial reasons, he quips) and manages to never let get in the way of his narration.
A First Fringe Award winner in 2016, The Duke is still every bit as emotional and imaginative, apposite and evocative. Catch it in its Edinburgh Fringe reprise before it moves on to other venues including London’s Royal Court Theatre later this year.