By Royce Ryton
Directed by David Grindley
Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton
Date: Tuesday 15th July 2008
This play covers the events leading up to Edward VIII’s abdication from the family’s point of view, and finishes with a final scene set after WW2, when the Duke of Windsor was hoping to come home. The scenes are all set in Queen Mary’s sitting room, so a great deal of the dialogue is reportage. There’s also a fair bit of clunky exposition for those not so familiar with this story, so I found it took some time to get going.
I wasn’t immediately taken with Patricia Routledge as Queen Mary. She didn’t have quite enough authority for me, more of the middle class housewife done up with a load of bling. However, she grew on me as the performance went on. The other actors suffered from the clunky dialogue, cut-glass accents and lack of animation, which suited the characters but was dreadfully dull to watch. There was one good scene when the king turns up for dinner to find one more sister present than he expected. The awkward silence spoke volumes about how the situation was affecting the family, as well as emphasising why David feels the need for Wallis’ company. They could be a stuffy lot, these Windsors.
The scenes in the second half were better as a lot of explanation had already been done and the characters could get on with it more. I found the third scene very moving, where Bertie steps up to take on the role of king, and my eyes were very wet at times. I also enjoyed the earlier scene, where Elizabeth gets to speak her mind about David’s selfishness and how he’s affecting the rest of the family. It’s entertaining, and David does stand up for himself too, but it did go on a bit too long for my liking.
The debates between the characters were occasionally interesting, as they gave an insight into a time when Hitler and Mussolini hadn’t convinced everyone that they were bad news. David came across as an innovator, determined to bring his country and his church into the twentieth century, and even to build up the armed forces to make the country stronger. The opposite perspective is well represented by the Queen Mother and her daughter Mary, who are staunchly in the ‘no change’ camp, and who won’t even meet, or ‘receive’, Wallis Simpson because she’s divorced. Admittedly, her first divorce looks like misfortune, while her second, underway as the characters speak, looks like carelessness. And opportunism. We may never know.
This play was much more charged when it was first produced, as some of the characters were still living. Now that none of them are alive and we’ve had so many documentaries about this issue, it seems a bit stale, not helped by the lack of action and frequently stilted dialogue. There are some good laughs, and the performances were as good as the text would allow them to be, but it may be wise to leave it in mothballs for a good many years to give it more historical interest. Still, it was a good production, and I enjoyed my evening.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me