@ Ovalhouse (London) 21/04/2015 – 25/04/2015
Chris Ioan Roberts takes on the roles of both Wallis Simpson and Diana Spencer in the twisted black comedy “Dead Royal” and gives a strong and engaging performance in this carnival of “the woman who brought down the monarchy meeting the one who saved it.”
In a one person show the pressure is on the actor to carry the play and Chris does this with aplomb. His characterization is twisted and distorted and I found the physicality of the performance really intriguing; He does not disguise or hide away from the fact he is a man dressing as a woman but this does not detract. There is a real elegance and powerful stillness in the moments when he changes clothes and it’s these sections where everything seems to become quieter where I almost felt like I was in the room with the respective royal.
Though not quite of course. “Dead Royal” is bizarre and unhinged; with a Wallis talking filth, a Diana hunched and imagining her death on the steps of St Paul’s and characters who mime along to recordings of the real life royal version, like a karaoke of their life. The writing is caustic and sharply observed and provides some rich comic moments such as when Wallis is watching a videotape of a dramatization of her life and also when Diana is speaking about her husband to be.
The set design evokes a feeling of a party where no one has arrived or perhaps everyone has long left; A chaise lounge, a bulky television set on which VHS’s are played and sweet pastel colours on the floor, upon which countless pale pink boxes of champagne truffles are dotted about. Even the vomit that spills forth at one point is a pepto bismol pink and almost something pretty. Almost.
The soundscape was heavy and upsetting; monstrous at times and then interspersed with a light twinkling, like fairy dust. This may make it sound as though it was jarring and too much but in reality it was the perfect complement to the design and performance and created the idea of something beautiful in the midst of decay. Definite vibes of Miss Haversham from “Great Expectations” which is always a good thing in my opinion!
At a snappy 60 minutes, there was no fat on the bones at all and it was a thoroughly entertaining piece of theatre that has a definite edge. It was imaginative but also a glimpse into royal life, “an awful life, despite the trinkets.”
© Sarah Robertson 2015
Sarah is a poet and playwright who also does the 9-5 thing at Canary Wharf. A film buff with a penchant for 70s/80s horror, she is also interested in writing theatre that deals with social issues and the dark side of human nature. She is an associate artist of Shaky Isles Theatre and occasionally can be found shooting the breeze at thedirkesthour.blogspot.co.uk
Photo: Patricia Olivier