The Royal Hunt of the Sun by Peter Shaffer
I first saw this in the Oxford Playhouse 26 years ago–so long ago that in my memory it was Cortez and Montezuma in Mexico, not Pizzaro and Atahualpa in Peru. Fortunately, my family’s listening abilities are imperfect–and no one called me on my error.
The play has luscious stage directions–“They cross the Andes” and was supposed to be unstageable. However, it was the first British play staged at the National Theatre. The Oxford student group staging it today, the Acorn group, used a brilliant set–steel chains descending to signify mist and frost; brilliant gold crowns, gold ornaments and jewellery at Atahualpa’s court.
The play was a bit talky, lots of exploration of Pizarro’s psyche to present him as more than a man driven by greed and glory. I guess he was also a prototype of today’s travellers, of which I am one, impelled by unconquerable travel lust to see and experience new places. Unfortunately, Pizarro was also a poster boy for the spoof US Army poster, “Join the Army! Travel the World, Meet Interesting People, and Kill Them”
The play accurately presents the unimaginable wealth the conquest of Latin America brought Spain that is heart-breakingly presented in Eduardo Galeano’s Century of Wind for instance, as well as the tragedy of priceless intricate gold artwork being melted down for easier transport.
All in all, gripping, through the dialogue could be tedious and repetitive. This was Shaffer’s second play. History evidently proved a rich mother lode for him, for he later wrote Amadeus.
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