Calgary Fringe – Ludwig & Lohengrin – Review



Ludwig and Lohengrin

August 3, 4, 6, 8, 9 and 10, 2013 

Festival Hall


“How can you remain sane when you have to split yourself into several irreconcilable pieces?” It’s a question anyone who struggles with desire vs. expectation must at times ask themselves. In Kyall Rakoz’s wonderfully creative and stupendously performed one-man play, Ludwig & Lohengrin, the query doesn’t come from the person himself, it’s asked about him by one who already knows the answer.

Based on historical events, Ludwig & Lohengrin, examines the life of King Ludwig II of Bavaria who ruled as monarch from 1864 until 1886. Known as the Mad King, Ludwig spent much of his time ignoring his royal duties in favour of obsessing over art and artists, building fairy tale castles, hanging about with peasants and running off to imagined places in his mind and wherever his legs would let him wander off to.

But in Rakoz’s telling (based on a decent amount of research into the subject), it wasn’t the lack of leadership skills or the fact that insanity ran in his genes that landed Ludwig with that title. It was because he was a dreamer, he was a pacifist and he was secretly gay. All three of which angered his ministers and cabinet to the point of labeling him insane in order to seize power and eventually murder him. At least that’s the story Rakoz presents. And what a presentation it is!

Ludwig himself is cleverly absent from the story and instead Rakoz gives us accounts of his life from those that loved him and those that felt he was unfit. Some as straight, plot-driven narrative and some delivered as interview or confessional form. But this is not a chose your own adventure kind of story. Rakoz is clear that it is the besieged and relatable King we are to side with. The one who was thrust into a role never desired and a man who desired but was never allowed to truly and openly love the way he wanted.

But if anyone minded being told which way to think about these historical events, Rakoz’s enthralling fluency as a multitude of capital C characters surely distracted them from any concern. Frankly I lost count of just how many parts he was playing, but I do know that whether it was the Baroness (with shades of Downton Abbey Maggie Smith) or Wagner (the manipulative composer taking every advantage of Ludwig’s royal patronage) or the no-nonsense maid, Rakoz landed each role with perfect timing, humour and emotion.

But what really elevates this show to a higher plane is Rakoz’s brilliantly orchestrated design and direction. Never before has a plain white sheet been put to such good use on a stage. In what can almost be described as linen choreography, Rakoz twists, bends, shakes out, drapes and rewinds the sheet again to have it serve every costume and set purpose he needs. At one point it’s the backdrop for a shadow puppet rendition of the Lohengrin fairy tale, next thing it’s a skirt so perfectly conceived that it even has the time appropriate rear bustle. The result is both beautiful and surprising and you can feel the audience’s expectation as to just how this simple prop is going to be used next.

Ludwig & Lohengrin is by no means the first historically reimagined play and the murder of an eccentric 19th century King due to his political and sexual views perhaps doesn’t have resonance today beyond the  stage. But, in Rakoz’s hands, it is without a doubt one of the best experiences of the 2013 Fringe Festival.



For Fringeaholics – You go to so many plays in hopes of seeing one or two that surprise and thrill you. There are lots of great shows this year, but Ludwig and Lohengrin will stand out as something truly unique and magical and therefore is not to be missed. SEE IT

For light Fringers – See a comedy. See a confessional monologue. But also make sure you see this wildly creative drama that takes care to stimulate you visually as well as intellectually. SEE IT

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