The Duke is entirely a one-man show, with Shôn Dale-Jones sitting at a desk, accompanied by two microphones providing variation to his voice (one with reverb, one dry), and a laptop on which he operates sound cues. Theatre is almost always a collaborative art form, although here, there are only the artist and his audience. It is a doggedly minimal approach for staging a play; all we have is a piece of writing, and the writer presenting it to us, without ever leaving his seat. A leftist aesthetic perhaps, which is probably the only appropriate style for a play that has the refugee crisis as its main propulsive force.
The play is about the tension between opposing sides of our conscience, clear and guilty. It explores the parallels between selling out as an artist and our greed as nations vehemently protecting borders; all the twisted things we do for money. A further dimension of sentimentality is brought into the show, with a narrative concerning the author’s widowed mother and the replacement of a broken heirloom at all costs. Dale-Jones’ humour is poetic, sometimes charmingly wistful. His ability to move us seamlessly from one reality to another, with only his words as a theatrical device, is quite magical. He proves to be a marvellously imaginative writer, with an engaging, although sometimes slightly caustic, presence on stage.
The Duke demonstrates that it is easy for us to know right from wrong. However, in spite of our natural instincts to do good, we are often led down the garden path by fear and money. Instead of creating heated arguments that ask for greater compassion to those seeking asylum, Dale-Jones simply speaks to us with respect, understanding that our humanity is intact. It is political theatre, seeking to effect change, not only because half the box office takings go to the Save the Children’s Child Refugee Crisis, but it reminds us gently, of the things we should hold important in our lives. The show’s separate stories talk to us on different levels, and helps us consider the various spheres of our Western existence; the professional, the personal and the social, how we can find harmony in each, and how it requires us to dare to do good.