Review: Dead Royal
Madeleine Dale | On 27, Sep 2015
Eighteen years after her death, people are still entranced by the spectre of Lady Diana Spencer. Chris Ioan Robertsâ€™ Dead Royal brings the Peopleâ€™s Princess back for one last night, in a brutal vivisection of royal life, public sentiment and the civilians who get caught in the cross-fire.
Set in the Parisian house of Wallis Simpson, the woman for whom King Edward VIII abdicated in 1936, Dead Royal imagines a doomed soiree between the two womenâ€”one already chewed up and spat out by the Palace, the other about to step into the dark maw of royal life.
Diana is so seared onto the public retina, so thoroughly iconic, that when Roberts slips on the red dress and blonde wig, you almost expect to hear the Princessâ€™ soft voice floating across the stage. Of course, this is where Roberts breaks out a few choice curses. The show shines a ruthless spotlight on Dianaâ€™s relative innocence, her angst and the bitter question of how well she knew the maelstrom she was about to enter.
Her host is a lesser known figure, and some of the intricacies of thirties court gossip might be a bit beyond a modern Australian audience. But the satire here is often overpowered by a campy, caterwauling, Southern belle Simpson, so most of the jokes hit home. Dead Royal is at its most enjoyable when itâ€™s punching up, and the extended jabs at the Royal family are both eloquent and clever. However, when Wallis is allowed to give full voice to her impressive array of vicious bigotries (period-accurate though they may be) La Boite Studio can feel uncomfortably small.
There are moments of beautiful lyricism in the script, and the vicious satire of the work is largely couched in delicately-spun phrases, like a knife hidden under a soft twist of fairy-floss. As a result, the exact nature of the show is a little sticky, but for the most part it works. There are moments of high artificeâ€”being continually spritzed with perfume, and the impressive multi-media soundscapeâ€”and equally, moments where the trappings are stripped back to physical theatre, and the art of adjusting very high heels. There are elements of a grand melodrama, and aspects of biting social satire.
On the whole, Dead Royal is something quite like one of the Windsor pearls Wallis tries frantically to dissolve in champagneâ€”grown from a hard grit of truth, rather opaque, but subtly lustrous.
Brisbane Festival is now onâ€”for the full program, or tickets, check out their website here.
Image Credit: Patricia Oliveira and Brisbane Festival Official.