Review: The Seat Next To The King (Minmar Gaslight)

Photo of Kwaku Okyere and Connor LingSteven Elliott Jackson’s transcendent new play The Seat Next to the King is remounted in Toronto

The Seat Next To The King, a new play by Steven Elliott Jackson and directed by Tanisha Taitt, is a powerful piece of theatre exploring race, sexuality and the “differences” that make us all the same.

I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about The Seat Next To The King recently especially after it’s successful run in the 2017 Toronto Fringe Festival. I had really high hopes for it’s new incantation at The Theatre Centre, produced by Minmar Gaslight and can safely say that my hopes were met last night — perhaps even exceeded.

I usually scribble notes when I’m reviewing a show, but after about 30 minutes into The Seat Next To The King, I look down to a blank page, realizing that I completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing! That to me is a testament to the performance quality. It simply demanded my attention.

The energy in the theatre is almost…transcendent. There are moments where the room is so quiet, I have to drag my pen about ten times more slowly (when I eventually remembered to take notes) just to be sure my neighbour wouldn’t hear the scritchy-scratch on the page. The actors have us in the palm of their hands and we’re more than happy to be there.

Kwaku Okyere, who plays the frantic and brash freedom fighter Bayard Rustin, along with his counterpart, Conor Ling as uptight-government worker, Walter Jenkins are perfect together. The chemistry between these men is sheer electricity and one of the most exciting things I’ve seen on stage all year.

The script itself is strong. I can see why it was chosen as the winner of Fringe’s Playwriting Contest. The dialogue is artful, smart and quick with playful moments of humour injected at just the right places.

Even though the script is near-perfect, I did find there to be a little too much focus on social justice and not enough on the relationship between the two men. There was a bit of an unbalance there and trust me, I was loving the political rants, but I found myself wanting to see more sides to these characters than just their position on politics.

Besides that minor observation, the play still felt like a masterpiece. Every detail tended to and cared for with a seamless flow fuelled by Okyere and Ling’s generous presence.

This show is beyond all else, important. I won’t be telling my friends that they “should” see. I’ll be telling them that they “need” to see it.

Details:

  • The Seat Next To The King is playing at the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen St. W.)
  • Playing from September 17-October 1, 2017, see website for dates and times.
  • Tickets are 29$ (22$ for arts workers) and are available to purchase online or through the box office (416-538-0988)
  • This venue is accessible.
  • Audience Advisory: Mature Content

Photo of Kwaku Okyere and Conor Ling provided by the company. 

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