When Claire van Kampen learned the story of King Philippe of Spain’s mental illness and the famous castrato opera singer Farinelli whose song nursed him back to health, she didn’t immediately think she’d be the one to write it.
“I never considered anyone else to write it, and all credit must be given to the former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Dominic Dromgoole. I’d pitched the idea to him and said, ‘What do you think of this amazing story?’ And he said, ‘You should write it.’ And I said, ‘Not really a writer,’ and he said, ‘Yes, you are.’ And I said, ‘Maybe I am!’”
Once she wrote it, she didn’t expect her husband, three-time Tony winner (Boeing-Boeing, Jerusalem, Twelfth Night) and Oscar winner (Bridge of Spies) Mark Rylance to star as the King. But on December 17 at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre, van Kampen made her Broadway playwriting debut (Farinelli and the King is also her first playwriting credit overall), and Rylance bowed in the majestic title role.
“I was speaking [to her] as her partner, and I wasn’t available at first,” says Rylance in the video below. “I would have been very jealous if someone else would have done it.”
Known best as a composer, and the first female music director of both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Royal National Theatre in London, van Kampen spoke to Playbill about her work. “I learned so much stagecraft working at The Globe over more than 20 years, and at the Globe what you play in is called shared light,” says van Kampen. “It’s like they’ve come to your sitting room, so you feel like a part of the story. I carried that into writing this play—I’ve written it very specifically for that kind of space.”
Other members of the company also spoke about performing in a space lit only by candlelight onstage, without mics, completely acoustic. “We have to stay very front-footed and active, and sprung is a word that [director] John Dove uses all the time,” says actor Melody Grove, who plays Queen Isabella.
Actor Sam Crane and singer Iestyn Davies, who share the role of Farinelli, explained why it makes sense for the role to be played by two people rather than one. Davies, in particular, said he thinks of their acting relationship as similar to the puppeteers and horses of War Horse. Listen above to hear his thoughts (and his singing).
Cast members Edward Peel, Lucas Hall, and Colin Hurley also joined Playbill live on the opening night red carpet and revealed the pre-show backstage ritual that the entire company practices together each night. Just like at Shakespeare’s Globe of old, Farinelli and the King features a true acting troupe in a story about the restorative power of music.