Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Dead Royal at Ovalhouse
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Dead Royal at Ovalhouse
Ginger Hibiscus | REVIEW: Dead Royal at Ovalhouse
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23 Apr REVIEW: Dead Royal at Ovalhouse

When HRH King Edward VIII decided that he wanted to marry the woman he loved, it was a decision so controversial that it threatened a constitutional crisis; so much so, that he felt compelled to abdicated the throne. The sticking point? His choice of a bride. An American divorcee with two living ex-husbands, Wallis Simpson wasn’t considered an “appropriate” consort, not to mention the fact that as King, Edward was the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, a Church that at the time forbade this kind of remarriage. So instead, the throne passed to Edward’s brother, George, and the newlyweds – arguably unfairly – became regarded as a pair of notorious parasites.

Dead Royal244 years after they said their vows, came the marriage of HRH Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer, another wedding and another woman drawn into and entangled by royalty. But in stark contrast to Wallis, this time she was the nation’s sweetheart. With so much uniting two such different women, speculating as to what Wallis might have said to Diana on the eve of her wedding opens up a whole world of possibility…

Despite Dead Royal being billed as a drag act, forget the stripper heels, sequinned dresses and drawn-on faces of stereotypical drag, and turn your imagination instead, to understated gender subversion. A pair of glamorous women, both played by one man, with elegance, poise and the most fabulous array of metaphors.

Chris Ioan Roberts invites us into Wallis’ lavishly 80s Parisian boudoir, VHS rolling on a flickery state-of-the-art television, as she prepares for the arrival of her guest by making her a mix tape. With the cynicism of experience, she recalls her time with the senior royals, imparting knowledge and…advice?…on a naive and downtrodden Diana, forced, at last, to appreciate the cost of her ambition.

With any production featuring royalty, writers and directors have to decide whether to lean on the official story, or to add in (let’s face it, the more interesting) speculative elements, unproven claims and unadulterated rumour, the kind that encircle the royal family relentlessly, and scandalise the public whilst making us realise that perhaps this family isn’t actually all that remarkable. But even when the latter is adopted, there’s a fine line between tabloid gossip and claims that even they wouldn’t publish. Chris Ioan Roberts’ irreverent style creates moments that are close to the line, sometimes striding right up to it, and looking you in the eye as it deliberately steps across, grinning.

But just because Dead Royal pushes at the boundaries of acceptability, that doesn’t mean it’s without warmth or a sense of empathy. In ordinary life, catching the scent of a woman’s perfume is intimate to say the least, something played upon by Chris Ioan Roberts in his show. Wafting about the studio space, the smells of the two eau de parfums give the feeling that you’ve overheard something you shouldn’t have done, an unusual addition stimulating one of the most complex but underexploited senses.

With some particularly enthusiastic royalists already camped outside St Mary’s Hospital awaiting the birth of another royal baby, the timing of Dead Royal at Ovalhouse could’t be more perfect. Before Kate’s was even a glimmer in the tabloids’ eyes, the most eagerly watched royal womb belonged to the woman whose engagement ring she wears, Diana, the primary antagonist of the piece. A vivid, funny and often scathing view of royalty, Dead Royal draws on the real memoirs of Wallis and Diana, presenting it playfully and bringing the 80s alive through technology.

For tickets and information:
Venue: Ovalhouse
Dates: 21st April – 25th April 2015
Images: Patricia Oliveira

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here