At 19, Marie Antoinette was the Queen of France. Born into the mighty Hapsburg line, and the Archduchess of Austria before her marriage to Louis-Auguste (the future Louis XVI) Marie Antoinette knew not what it was to go without. Bolstered with initial popularity, the goodwill of the people did not last as she become disliked by many of the population and accused of siding with France’s enemies as well as becoming embroiled in a scandal that was to become one of the major factors leading towards the French Revolution. At 37, Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine.
But, according to David Adjmi’s brilliantly contemporary take on this young Queen, much can be found amongst the historical litter that will resonate profoundly within our own.
Green Room Award nominated, Heartstring Theatre, are set to take control of the Northcote Town Hall come next month with their interpretation of Adjmi’s highly lauded work. At the helm is director, Rachel Baring, who is thrilled to be working on the project but whose first response to the work was sheer terror.
“I remember turning to my friends while reading the script for the first time and reading out loud some of the stage directions, it seemed impossible. This play terrified me… so naturally I had to direct it.,” she says. “I honestly believe that you are inspired by a play or terrified by a play (hopefully both) and those are the works that I want to direct.”
Multi Award winner, Adjmi, is well known for his fearless, fierce and absurd approach to story telling, There is humour as well – many times as black as the deepest part of the ocean! His work also explores the political and , in this instance, that particular theme, and all of its progeny, find a home.
According to Baring the nature of power features heavily in this work. “One of my favourite lines from the play is ‘Power can’t be shared that’s not the nature of it.’ It speaks a lot about Democracy being the opposite of this statement, which is inherently true, but doesn’t at all cover what our democracy has become. The play looks a lot at Rousseau and his theory of equality; the ideal that people are good but society is a corrupting force,” she says.
“As a Melbournian female living in this moment of time, that statement seems wrong. As a person living in the world right now, the concept that democracy is the great equaliser seems wrong.”
However, Baring does not want to try and answer these questions with the play, but more allow them to be questions for all of us to unpack.
Marie Antoinette was such a large and significant figure in history and Baring has tried not to get lost down the rabbit hole of research. “There are so many different opinions and versions, I don’t think it’s helpful for this particular production,” she says. “This play isn’t an historical documentary on Marie, audience aren’t going to have a history lesson. It’s very clever and funny and absurd… and dark. There are contemporary elements. The story is a beast all of itself.”
But how does Baring view this part of history and Marie Antoinette’s part in it?
“Poor, Marie. She’s been blamed throughout so much of history, but I have to ask where else in history has the spouse of a ruler been blamed? And why was she blamed rather than the king? I don’t want to go into too much detail (because spoilers!) but this woman, who was sent from her family at 14 to be the QUEEN of France, has been blamed for the downfall of a Monarchy. How does one person, who is not the leader of the country, make that happen? She was a symbol. And well and truly the easiest one to blame”
A fascinating contemporary study of a young Queen, Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette will challenge and entice. Says Baring about the play: “It’s political and poignant, funny and absurd, flippant and contemplative. But it is also destroying. The play is brilliant and we shall do it justice.”
July 5 – 15