The Making of Frederick the Great is a new play written by Eliza Larkey, co-directed and co-produced by Larkey and Charlotte Kindred, with Kindred also starring in the production. I’ll admit, Kindred is one of my best friends. I interviewed her ahead of the premiere of this exciting new play, which played at The Cockpit as part of Camden Fringe.
Shakespeare meets Bridgerton, the play tells the story of the esteemed Frederick the Great (Jake O’Hare, a delight to watch), one of Europe’s best-known and most ferocious monarchs. What the history books often neglect to tell you, however, is that Frederick preferred the company of men. He fell in love with Katte (Tommy Papaioannou, who delivers a heart-wrenching performance), his father’s favourite soldier. Fred’s father (spoiler) ultimately executes Katte, officially for treason but also to break up Fred’s homosexual relationship, setting off Fred’s metamorphosis into “Frederick the Great”.
Whilst the obvious approach would have been linear, allowing the audience to appreciate Fred’s gradual hardening, Eliza takes a non-linear approach, in which there are two timelines: in the first, Fred is a book-loving Prince; in the latter, he’s a ruthless King. Scenes are paired together brilliantly. With each pairing, we are told something new or asked to consider a certain something. The non-linear approach actually, surprisingly, aided us in understanding Fred’s metamorphosis.
Scene changes were clear, with white lighting representing one timeline and yellow light representing the other. Without the changes in light, it would have been harder to follow, which was clear when the lighting team were a little slow changing the light.
It’s hard to believe that Eliza is a first-time writer. The amount of detail in her script is commendable; she sure knows her stuff. I imagine endless research has gone into this play. It was like a hundred encyclopedia volumes come to life but with moving images and lots of humour. Occasionally, there was a little too much detail: audiences are less interested in the intricacies of political warfare than they are in the characters and their development.
That said, the characters are developed wonderfully. In particular, the relationship between Fred and his ruthless, brutal father (a striking Phil McDermott), who has just about no redeeming qualities, is excellent. This remains relevant: a lot of queer people have tough relationships with their fathers.
In the end, however, Fred becomes just like his father, which the directors capture brilliantly in the final scene. It’s tragic.
A comedic highlight is a scene in which the King confronts Fred about his love of men, only for Fred to flip it right back: the King, too, loves men. The King then explains why his love of men is different; his lack of self-awareness is astounding.
I was infatuated with the relationship between Fred and Katte; it’s so great to see a gay relationship onstage.
Fred’s mother, Queen Sophia (Odera Ndujiuba), and sister, Wilhemine (India Parton), brought a heart-warming, comedic edge to the play, which did become quite heavy.
Jaydon Merrick (Francis), Kara Taylor Alberts (who plays Voltaire, a man, because why the hell not?), Chay Giles (Maurpetius/Johann), and Pollyn Knight (Scherwin) all get moments to shine in this rollercoaster of a play.
Kindred delivers a scene-stealing performance as the powerful, pregnant Maria Theresa, the Holy Roman Empress. Believe it or not, in this time period, two of the most powerful European leaders were a woman and a gay man – and they went head to head.
It would have been great to see more of Maria Theresa; she’s a complex character and Kindred was a delight to watch. But I appreciate that there is only so much that you can do in such a short amount of time, and one could argue that the book is already doing too much for a one-act play. Camden Fringe does not allow intervals but, should this play find life elsewhere, it could greatly benefit from an interval, allowing us to process everything that has just happened.
A fringe play performed in the round (well, square), there was no set but there were some set pieces and props, which added some excitement to the bare stage.
The directors made great use of every corner of the stage – and, occasionally, the pathways and the stairs. There was some great movement – especially the opening scene, a prologue of sorts, which introduces us to Fred and asks us what it means to be “great”.
I was very fond of the costumes. Whilst the women wore traditional dresses, the men wore long-sleeved satin tops in different colours (very ASOS). Camp!
What Larkey and Kindred, each making their professional debut, have done with such a small budget is incredible. This is, surely, the beginning of long careers for both of them.