The Duke is a one-man show, telling the (supposedly) true story of Shôn Dale Jones’ reaction to his elderly mother accidentally breaking an invaluable family heirloom. As he seeks a replacement for his late father’s most-prized possession, he also finds himself preoccupied by the refugee crisis in Europe and the looming deadline of a revised script he must submit to a film production company.
As the writer, protagonist and sole performer in this journey of self-discovery, Dale Jones has a lot resting on his shoulders. He knows he has to get the audience on his side, and so cheerfully welcomes every audience member as they enter the Traverse 2. As he introduces himself to us by his real name, he breaks down preconceptions of storytelling and narrative as he emphasises to the audience that this is a true story. Yet, as the story progresses, his account becomes as ludicrous as the script changes demanded by his film’s potential investor. Not only does his story seem far-fetched, it is also rather disturbing – including breaking into a pensioner’s home and later having a standoff with a violent part-time police officer/porcelain collector. Sure, it is amusing, but when we remember that the story is not fictitious, alarm bells do begin to ring.
The prized treasure of The Duke is Dale Jones’ mother. Her joy at being around people – finding some respite from her loneliness – will be relatable to many audience members. Although his impersonation of her comprises of a highly affected Welsh accent – one that surprisingly occasionally slips, despite being a Welshman himself – his adoration for her clearly comes through.
There is not much to say production-wise. “A financial thing”, Dale Jones is his own sound man and plays a variety of music clips to set the mood for various moments in the story. While the 70s music used to recall moments with his late father is charming, the music adds little elsewhere. In fact, there are moments when Dale Jones attempts to influence the audience’s reaction, using sad melodies to coax out sympathy for his struggle and the plight of others. His rhetoric of knowing those present to be “kind and generous” people verges on patronising, and frankly unnecessary.
To a degree, The Duke feels more self-serving to Dale Jones than it does to the refugees who inspired him to write his play. Instead of appearing selfless, he comes across as self-interested: wanting recognition for his journey of self-discovery, and his desire to make a difference. While some will congratulate his efforts, others will not be so impressed. After all, this man’s story does involve him driving an Audi TT Coupé and spending £4000 on four porcelain figures.
There are good intentions behind The Duke, and it certainly has a noble cause. However, while it does encourage the audience to consider their privilege, Dale Jones would do well to recognise his own.