views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Dead Royal
Ovalhouse
22nd April 2015

★★★☆☆

Chris Ioan Roberts

Photography © Patricia Oliveira

Diana: long gone like a candle in the wind, and yet everyone still seems to have an opinion on her. Whether it's a fondness for the Queen of Hearts or - well, I don't like to speak badly of the dead - she remains very much an iconic British figure. So why wouldn't another royal bride have an opinion too? Enter Wallis Simpson. Christopher Ioan Roberts writes, directs and performs in Dead Royal, a one-man show about these two women who left a undeniably visible mark on the monarchy. Often defined by their marriages rather than in their own right, it may be that in another universe without the Windsor factor, they might have got along famously.

Now, I may be restrained in how I describe Wallis and Diana, but Roberts has no such qualms, refusing to hold back when talking about or portraying them, with plenty of rude language and bitterness in his dialogue. Set in 1981 on the eve of Diana's ill-fated marriage to Prince Charles, this is a surreal imagined encounter between the two women. Roberts switches between a Southern US drawl and a rather more English private school accent - the characters differently dressed but equally vitriolic. Speaking of things long gone in the wind, scenes from Victor Fleming's epic 1939 film adaptation run in the background on a old television. Misery loves company, and Wallis and Diana share some stage time with Vivien Leigh's unhappy Scarlett.

Robin Soutar's set is 50 shades of pastel: it's feminine, cute and yet somehow old-fashioned and proper. Indeed, everything is just so, including the sugary pink candy floss coloured vomit which ends up on the floor. Throwing up? It's only disgusting when commoners do it. Mountains of boxes of Charbonnel et Walker champagne truffles? Even they seem carefully placed together, the elegance of the staging at odds with the irreverent script. There's little dignity in the words or behaviour, but there are touches of pure class in the environment.

The opening is strangely slow, as is the ending, and there are moments where you catch yourself wondering what exactly the point of it all is. People talking to themselves whilst watching really old recordings on VHS - does that sound good? Yes? Well, if that's your bag, you're immediately in luck. Otherwise, it does admittedly take a little while for Dead Royal to win you over. Given it's essentially under 60 minutes of a man in drag, you might be tempted to dismiss it is as purely visual and a bit daft, however the humour is surprisingly cerebral and that's where Roberts really delivers. The jokes are catty, sharp, quick and often very funny, coming out of nowhere and completely blindsiding you. Possibly like Wallis and Simpson, Dead Royal is simply smarter than you initially expect to give it credit for.

Just as we find Prince Harry's supermarket jaunt in King Charles III cruelly amusing, we appreciate Diana's admission that Gone With The Wind is far too long to hold her attention, and her plaintive whining about her fiancé's ability to be overly passionate about the dullest of subjects. Sometimes the gags are intelligent, at others, they're just mean, but they do get the laughs.

Dead Royal is vulgar, weird, entertaining and above all, tragic. It's a biographical short piece which demonstrates a lot of research and thought, and feels somewhat of a grand opus for the writer and performer behind it.

Dead Royal opened on 21st April and runs until 25th April 2015 at Ovalhouse.

Nearest tube station: Oval (Northern)



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