The Royal Hunt of the Sun is a Peter Shaffer play that portrays the destruction of the Inca by conquistador Francisco Pizarro.
The Royal Hunt of the Sun premiered at the National Theatre at the Chichester Festival in July 1964, and was produced by John Dexter. It was revived by the National in April 2006 with Alun Armstrong playing Francisco Pizarro and Paterson Joseph playing Atahuallpa.
The play begins in Spain, where Pizarro recruits 169 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 Atahaullpa - 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.