‘King James‘: An intimate story of male friendship

Writer Rajiv Joseph and director Bali Padda offer a close look at why friendship between males is important, in their play King James.

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The play King James is not about the King of Scotland or the King of basketball Le Bron James. It’s about two American basketball fans (Matt and Shawn) who connect through the game and develop a strong friendship.

Just like Matt and Shawn, director Bali Padda and writer Rajiv Joseph have collaborated once again after their play Guards at Taj to tell another story of loyalty and friendship.

So what inspired Pulitzer-nominated playwright Rajiv Joseph to write a play that revolves around male friendship and sports?

King James
Writer Rajiv Joseph (left), producer and actor Aaron Glenane (centre) and director Bali Padda  | Source: Supplied

“I’m fascinated by why people (myself included) invest so much time, money and emotional currency on teams and players,” Rajiv replies. “One theory I subscribe to – and the one that led me to write this play – is that many young men in this country have a great deal of difficulty expressing their emotions, but sports and fandom provide the language for it.”

Men, research has shown, have fewer friends than women. Close friendships between men can potentially be more fulfilling than romantic relationships with women.

Such friendships offer much in terms of well-being and emotional wellness.

King James
Image credits: Daniel Asher-Smith

To forge that kind of relationship between males, finding an activity that binds, goes a long way. King James hones in on this with much success.

Though the play is set in Cleveland, USA, its universal theme of basketball is used effectively to view the ups and downs of friendship and the power of sports to bring people together.

For director Bali Padda, it was a hark back to a similar theme he had worked on before, and quite successfully, so he jumped at the idea.

King James
Image credits: Daniel Asher-Smith

“My previous production Guards of the Taj was a very intimate story of two close friends, set against the big thematic world of Taj Mahal and Shah Jahan,” Bali tells Indian Link.  “King James is quite similar with this aspect. It’s an intimate story of two friends set against the world of NBA, American politics, racial identity and social class. When I saw the reviews online for King James, I had my eyes set on it. I watched the show in New York and even though I’m not really a sports fan, I enjoyed the intimacy of the play. Aaron Glenane, the actor and producer of the film got the rights to the play and offered me to direct. As the play is set in a wine bar, we thought Old Fitz Theatre would be the perfect venue for it, as it’s based in the basement of a pub.”

In the play, we get a peep into the twelve-year friendship of the two characters, in all its ebbs and flows.

Together the two actors carry the burden of the play on their shoulders.

Image credits: Daniel Asher-Smith

“Both Aaron Glenane and Tinashe Mangwana are very different actors,” Bali reflects. “Aaron has been working in the film and television industry for a while and I was quite excited when he procured the rights for this play and wanted to play the role of Matt. He’s a nuanced and refined sort of character actor. And Tinashe, despite being a newcomer, his energy and enthusiasm was just off the charts. He has such an intimate knowledge of basketball and felt connected to the story and the character of Shawn.“

Rajiv weighs in, “You don’t, however, need to know anything about basketball to appreciate this story! “

Bali agrees, “It’s about friendship, at the end of the day.“

King James is on until 29 June. Details here

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Neeru Saluja
Neeru Saluja
Neeru Saluja is a freelance films and arts writer with 20 years of experience. Specialising in Bollywood celebrity interviews, she has also covered music concerts, comedy shows, plays and interviewed artists for the Sydney Film festival, the Indian Film festival in Melbourne, WOMADelaide, AACTA and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

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