Reading the description of Chris Ioan Roberts’ one man show could not have been camper if it had been hand-delivered by Conchita Wurst on a pillow of glittery rainbows. Set in 1981 on the eve of the Royal wedding, the infamous mistress Wallis Simpson invites Lady Diana Spencer to her apartment in Paris in a bid to stop her from making the biggest mistake of her life and marrying into ‘The Family’. While the show certainly had a high camp element (the soundtrack to Gone with the Wind brings some high drama), it turns out to be so much more than that.
Dead Royal is a juicy little nugget of a show; just biting enough to be funny but never venturing into the much easier territory of being bitchy. Roberts clearly has great respect for both women and although he sends up Simpson as a slightly racist, aging Southern Belle and Lady Diana as a bit of a drippy but nevertheless foul mouthed Sloane, it’s all rooted in very well researched reality. His transformation from one character to the next is a treat to watch; at the start if feels like we’re backstage at a drag show, but his delicacy pushes this to one side and instead focuses on the construct of a public image.
But that’s not to say this show isn’t hilarious. His observations, from the styling to minute gestures induce giggles and tittering from the audience. Both characters are presented as women with astute PR skills, re-recording sections of their taped diary when they think of a better line or come across too catty. Even the now-dated technology gets a laugh and tape recorders, VHS players and low-res versions of news reels all conspire to work against the royals.
With a mixture of femme fatale style boudoir and chintzy 80’s fluff, the set is the perfect combination of regal elegance and fading glamour. Roberts again shows his attention to detail with the set dressing, right down to the deliciously pastel chocolate boxes strewn across the stage, all with the royal crest stamped on them.
Running at just under an hour, Dead Royal certainly manages to cram a whole roster of drama in its short running time, but looking at the ticket prices you really will be getting bang for your buck when seeing this cheeky little number of a show.
Reviewed by Roz Carter
Photo: Patricia Oliveira