Peter Shaffer’s “Royal Hunt” is the story of Francisco Pizarro and his men’s tortuous journey through a strange land of frozen mountains and dense forests in search of the vast wealth of the Incas and their god-king Atahuallpa.
This gold-jammed play is a story of human contact and divine ideology. We see the Spaniards make an amazing journey through the foreign and strange Incan empire to meet with the God-king. They search for gold, but along the way they learn of a culture very foreign to their own which challenges their preconceptions.
At times the play seems to lapse into a Pocahontas-esque treatment of noble savages versus ignoble Western invaders, but overall it’s a moving exploration of human themes.
Director Charlotte Beynon’s Incas loom at the back of the stage with their leader, watching the Conquistadors on their quest. Their strange height (Beynon has them on stilts) and almost demon-like appearance underlines the conflicts between the two cultures. The Incas move as one, tilling their fields and praising Atahuallpa whereas the Spaniards are independant, at times scatty in their movements.
Religious conflict courses through the play: the Incas’ religion demands that they are all part of nature; they are happy and content without worldly goods. The Catholics on the other hand believe they must suffer for their lives to mean anything. They are at once part of nature and at war with it. Part of Pizarro’s crisis is a crisis of faith. He has never fully believed his Catholic faith and is gradually seduced by the content promised by “[his] Inca”. During the imprisonment of Atahuallpa by the Spaniards, we see a touching relationship develop between the leaders of the two groups. Jacob Taee as Francisco Pizarro is forceful and inspiring. His intriguing relationship with the Incan God-King Atahuallpa, played by Joe Robertson, takes him from disenchanted and haunted by his own indifference to impassioned and believing.
The touching and sympathetic performance by Rob Hoare-Nairne as Young Martin definitely deserves a mention in developing the humanity of the play. The Spaniards as a whole are suspicious and hostile, but young Martin reaches out and tries to understand the strange god-king.
While the Spaniards are crude, rude and fundamentally Western, the Incas are strange, haunting and beautiful. Joe Robertson presents us with a complex, convincing and powerful character completely convinced of his own divinity. Robertson catches both the authority and innocence of the role beautifully and, at times, humorously.
For a play about humanity, wrapped in surrealism, “The Royal Hunt of the Sun” is surprisingly funny. Much comedy ensues when Atahuallpa and his noblemen try to understand the Catholic faith, thinking that the Spaniards’ god becomes a biscuit and they eat him.
The surrealism of the play is accentuated through the set and costumes. The gold gathering in the prison cell is shown by an Inca wearing odd golden shapes. This is truly bizarre: but in a truly wondrous way.
This is a play of wide-eyed wonder and seemingly impossible to stage scenarios. It is a human and touching, yet light-hearted. You can see that the cast is having a great time – the audience will too. So long as you like gold.