A powerful new interactive theatrescape by Sharmini Kumar, The Regina Monologues, comes to Meat Market, Stables, in June for three powerhouse performances only.
Power, privilege and problems come together in a mammoth project focused on a series of monologues based on royal women from varying times and places. For Kumar, it was a project that continued to fascinate well beyond its genesis.
” I just kept coming across these incredible stories and I wanted to tell them all,” she says. “And the things that they had in common was that they are all women and they had some kind of royal connection. It all just started from there, really.”
Of the many queens in history, Kumar chose the individuals she did because ultimately each one had something about their story that grabbed her; some kind of detail, big or small, that felt important or significant or worthy of shining a light on. “When I kind of step back and look at them as a whole, I realise that they are centred around themes that I’m interested in – gender, power, privilege, race, colonialism, representation, mental health … but they’re each quite different,” she says.
Epic in many ways, the piece devoured many hours in research that Kumar acknowledges came in different forms for each one. For some she read biographies and for others she was focused on one detail or one incident, for others again she was interested more in how they are perceived than in the details of their lives.
“Sophia Duleep Singh ( a prominent suffragette in the United Kingdom and the daughter of a Prince) is fascinating; her whole family backstory, her father’s connection to the famous Koh-i-noor diamond – it was such an interesting story to delve into,” she says.
Knowing almost nothing about Njinga ( a monarch of Ndongo and Matamba) before starting the project, Kumar discovered she is an incredibly strong and powerful symbol, as well as someone who endured incredible suffering and accomplished amazing things in her resistance to Portuguese colonialism.
The show deals with feminism and privilege, but also colonialism and race. The latter a personal ‘in’ for Kumar who is part Sri Lankan, so this history of colonialism is relevant to her family and a strong theme in select monologues.
“Race and colonialism are very personal themes for me as a person of colour who is Australian – and it’s almost impossible to talk about imperial or political power over the last 500 years or more without that being part of it,” she says. “I’m always interested in women’s stories, people who faced various forms of discrimination, but also had privilege in other ways. Also, a couple of these characters have mental health struggles, which is something I relate to as well. ”
As a creative, Kumar is always drawn to stories of marginalised genders and races. “I like stories where people show us both their flaws and their strengths, because I think those are the most relatable” she says. “I have tended to be drawn to historical pieces … I don’t really know why!”
The show is being produced by Kumar’s company, 24 Carrot Productions, of which she is the founder and Artistic Director. The company was officially formed in 2017, although she had been producing, writing and directing for a few years before that. “I was really just trying to create a space to tell the kinds of stories that I wanted to, and I’ve been very fortunate that I keep finding people who want to collaborate,” she says. “We want to share stories that inspire inclusivity, we wanted to focus on gender and race equity and we’re still working towards those goals.”
Kumar’s critically appreciated piece Shakespeare in Therapy played at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, the Adelaide Fringe Festival, and the Shakespeare on the River festival in Stratford, Victoria. And her 2017 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion led to her being named an Honorary Associate at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LaTrobe University. She has previously written and produced documentaries for ABC Radio National’s Encounter program. She is a medical doctor in her day job.
As for many, the dark year of Covid was a major challenge. “One of the monologues is a piece I’ve been working with, and adapting, for over five years now,” she says. “The rest all started in early 2019. We were ready to go in May of last year, but obviously that couldn’t happen. It was sad, but it was also an opportunity to have these characters sit with actors for over 12 months now, and I think for those that have been with the project for that long it really comes through in the work they’ve done and how much they connect to these characters.”
The Regina Monologues is a celebration of some of our strongest and most powerful women across history, featuring stories from the past that illuminate how we live today
“These are some stunning performances,” says Kumar. “I think these stories are fascinating and moving and funny. I would say, ‘Come and enjoy it! Come and meet some people that you might not have heard of and see how their perspective might change you.'”
Thirteen Queens delve into conversations about gender and power, with humour and heart. Holding court across three rooms at the same time, The Regina Monologues invites Melbourne to a unique evening, where everyone experiences a different show. Who will you choose to meet?
June 17 – 19
Bookings: online only via www.24carrotproductions.com