Monday, 29 June 2015

Dead Royal by actor-director Chris Ioan Robert

Dead Royal by actor-director Chris Ioan Robert at Ovalhouse on Wednesday 22nd April (glass of bubbly at 7pm with the performance at 7.45pm). Roberts returns to Ovalhouse following the success of the FiRST BiTE season of Chris' solo show Half Wallis in 2014 which became Dead Royal

Dead Royal makes use of original quotes drawn from interviews with Wallis Simpson and Diana Spencer. In 1982, Wallis, Duchess of Windsor aged 82, invites Lady Diana Spencer aged 19 to a despair-laden bachelorette party on the eve of her wedding to Prince of Wales. Dead Royal is a lacerating, camp-drenched celebration of 1980s narcissistic megalomania where the Duchess frantically warns Diana to flee her impending marriage – before she marries the wrong man and becomes immortalised as someone willing to crawl over broken glass to snatch a royal title.

First of all, a little question about the content… what is it that attracts you to the royals - and how do they match with your approach to making theatre?

I’m deeply attracted to the downright silliness of it all; the slightly fey pageantry, of course, but also the inequality of the system and how the royals have essentially stockpiled assets and filled their houses with poorly designed furniture and pelmets at our expense. Obviously I’m only touching the surface here but the whole thing is a sitting duck for a theatre maker. Is this treasonous?

Your press release suggests that you are a 'subversive' actor/director... does that word have any meaning for you, or would you prefer another adjective?

I come from a long line of quietly subversive people so I can’t think of a better adjective. It has meaning to me in the sense that I think theatre should be enormously enjoyable and part of a much wider national conversation. Dead Royal was partly inspired by Hilary Mantel’s 2013 LRB essay on the role of women in the royal family that caused a bit of a ruckus at the time due to its (fairly accurate) description of Kate Middleton so I suppose a subversion of accepted protocol when discussing the royal family is fundamental to the work.

Since you are taking on three roles in the production - acting, writing, directing - how do you approach the dramaturgy of transforming the script into a performance (if you start from a script...)

It sounds a bit grand but I start by building a ‘physical score’ and a series of movements for each character coming out of the rhythm and sound of the language. For Dead Royal I built on the idea of the character’s physical world being confined to a court-like shape and used this to frame the way we rehearsed. It has a lot to do with the team, too. One of London’s best young production designers, Robin Soutar, miraculously agreed to work on the project and as his design suggestions were better than mine this allowed a collaboration to develop which informed the dramaturgy in a new way. For the final week of rehearsals I brought in a superb assistant director, Alex Rand, to help me where I’d gone horribly wrong and give me brutal feedback when necessary (often).

You are also called -well, not you, the work - 'vulgar', which is an interesting word for a play about royalty - again, is that a good description?

Cast your mind back to the early 80s. You’re dining alone with Princess Margaret at Kensington Palace and she’s half way through her 5th tequila sunrise as she suggests a slideshow of her latest adventures on Mustique. I feel ‘vulgar’ is the only appropriate word. If you look closely the royals are vulgarity’s biggest exponents.

What are you hoping that audiences will get from the piece?

The feeling you get when you overhear a filthy conversation you shouldn’t be hearing but can’t leave for fear of being noticed. Forget Kristin Scott Thomas in The Audience, get one queen for the price of two at Dead Royal.

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