The Royal Hunt of the Sun

The Royal Hunt of the Sun

"The Royal Hunt of the Sun" is a 1964 play by Peter Shaffer that portrays the destruction of the Inca empire by conquistador Francisco Pizarro.

Performance history


"The Royal Hunt of the Sun" had its first performances at the Chichester Festival, prior to its London opening at the National Theatre at the Old Vic in July 1964. It was directed by John Dexter and designed by Michael Annals with music composed by Marc Wilkinson and movement by Claude Chagrin. The cast was led by Robert Stephens as Atahualpa and Colin Blakely as Francisco Pizarro and included Oliver Cotton, Graham Crowden, Paul Curran, Michael Gambon, Edward Hardwicke, Anthony Hopkins, Derek Jacobi, Robert Lang, John McEnery, Edward Petherbridge, Louise Purnell and Christopher Timothy. The production was a success and in addition to its run at the Old Vic, it played at the Queen's Theatre, London and toured to Aberdeen, Glasgow, Stratford, Leeds, Oxford and Nottingham.


The first Broadway performance took place at the ANTA Playhouse on 26 October, 1965. The production by the Theatre Guild was the same as the original London production. In the cast were Christopher Plummer as Pizarro, David Carradine as Atahualpa and George Rose as Old Martin. The play ran for 261 performances

Film version

The play was filmed on location by the now defunct National General Pictures studio in 1969, with Robert Shaw as Pizarro, Christopher Plummer switching roles to play Atahualpa, Nigel Davenport as Hernando De Soto, and Leonard Whiting, in his first role after "Romeo and Juliet", as Young Martin (Old Martin was omitted from the film). The screen version has been released on DVD.

2006 revival

The play was revived by the National at the Olivier Theatre in April 2006 in a production directed by Trevor Nunn, designed by Anthony Ward with the original music by Marc Wilkinson and choreography by Anthony Van Laast. Leading the cast were Alun Armstrong as Pizarro and Paterson Joseph as Atahualpa.


The play begins in Spain, where Pizarro recruits 167 men for an expedition to Peru. He is accompanied by his second-in-command Hernando de Soto, and Vicente de Valverde, a Catholic priest determined to spread the shining light of Christianity. It is narrated or commented upon by Old Martin, a jaded man in his mid-fifties. Young Martin - another character in the play - is his younger counterpart, integrated with the time-frame in which the expedition commences. At the beginning of the voyage he is obsessed with chivalry, glory and honour, but becomes increasingly disillusioned throughout, as Pizarro's crisis of faith also unravels.

The expedition is predominantly in the name of gold, religion and belief; all Incas being heathens who must be brought before God. The play critically studies these two themes throughout the discovery of Atahualpa - the Inca Sun God - and massacre of the Incas themselves.

Music is a key element to this play, more so than any other by Peter Shaffer. He wanted strange and disturbing sounds produced on primitive instruments such as saws, reed pipes, drums (tablas and bongos) and cymbals to create the aural world of 16th Century Peru. Shaffer was so impressed with Marc Wilkinson's score for The Royal Hunt Of The Sun that he now considers it "integral to the play."

The staging is relatively simple: an upper and lower part to the stage making up the ground plan. The main attribute is the image of the sun, which presents a creative challenge for all who undertake this mammoth production. There have been numerous suns over the years, but when the play was first staged it was a large metal contraption, with huge 'petals' that opened up and outwards. Visuals are of the essence with this play, especially the lavish Inca costumes.

Although the play is performed on an open platform stage with little scenery, the film version opened it up considerably.

External links

*imdb title|id=0064907|title=The Royal Hunt of the Sun
* [,12830,1034832,00.html Guardian review]

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