Australian-born actor, writer and director, Chris Ioan Roberts, is set to serve up his delectable show Dead Royal at fortyfivedownstairs later this month. Playing both Wallis Simpson and Diana Spencer, London based Roberts returns to Australia to present his piece which he lovingly likens to being bludgeoned to death with one of the Queen Mother’s Christmas hams. A lovely way to go with a salty kick!
Set in Villa Windsor, Paris, 1981; Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson (82) invites Lady Diana Spencer (19) to a doom-laden bachelorette party on the eve of her wedding to Charles, Prince of Wales. “The piece is concerned with the expectations of women in public roles and the private world made public'” says Roberts. “It is also looks at how people can write themselves into their own melodrama and become spectators of their own downfall. There is also a lot about the need for people to luxuriate in their own life stories and to record their lives for posterity…on cassette and Betamax.”
Playwright Roberts was inspired to write Dead Royal after reading an essay by Hilary Mantel in the London Review of Books about the expectations of women marrying into the royal family. “I’d been thinking a lot about the relevance of the monarchy at the time, ” he says. “I’d always thought that the comment the Duke of Edinburgh made about Princess Diana having been chosen to “…breed in some height” was probably bang on and I began thinking about other women who had rattled the gilded royal cage throughout history. I settled on the infamous commoner Wallis Simpson who was subverting expectations of women from the 1920s onwards and generally having a bloody good time up until she got sucked into the thick swamp of royal mediocrity and inadvertently caused a constitutional crisis. As you do. I really couldn’t think of a better platform on which to explore the idea of someone becoming a myth in their own lifetime and thought that a meeting between Princess Diana and Wallis Simpson, on the eve of the 1981 royal mega wedding, would be the most delicious and f*cked up sparring match to watch.’
Dead Royal has already been seen by British audiences and does involve one of the most beloved woman in British history as a character in the piece. So, how did the Brits react to the piece:
“The vulgarity might have challenged the English reserve in some moments and I was surprised by how vocal and engaged British audiences were. There’s still a great sense of collective embarrassment over the outpouring of grief following the death of Diana in Britain and the piece aims to humanise her by suggesting she quite possibly could have been someone you met in the loos at the Vauxhaull Tavern. Wallis was a trickier sell as there are comparatively less examples of her in popular culture. Wallis actually ended up dominating proceedings as hostess and Diana appears only briefly as if seen through a pearly haze.”
Roberts is a graduate of the VCA and trained originally as a ballet dancer. As an artist his interests lie in the very specific ways humans interrelate under certain stimuli.
“I consider the scale of historical events and interrogate the social mores of particular periods,” he says. “My work is concerned with repeating patterns in history and the way humans have evolved to genuflect at the altar of the privileged. I don’t know if I’d describe myself as a satirist but there are elements of satire that inform the comedy and structure of the work.”
Dead Royal is a unique and public take on very a personal meet. Roberts likes to tell people that the show is a bit like being an unseen domestic servant observing the very private world of a public person. Full of danger and awkward silences and enormous amounts of fun – he hopes!
August 23 – 28