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Crown Matrimonial - Richmond Theatre

Crown Matrimonial

Review by David Munro

AT THE time when Crown Matrimonial was first produced at the Haymarket Theatre in 1972, no-one could have imagined that the Prince of Wales could, or even would, marry a divorced commoner for this is the nub of the play – the events leading up to the Abdication of King Edward V111 in 1936 for contemplating just such an action.

Today the whole point of the play is a portrayal of historical facts; the personal politics behind the events have lost their impetus and the arguments for and against Edward’s actions seem fusty and old hat; in the light of modern day events an onlooker must wonder what all the fuss was about.

However, at the time in which the play is set – the nineteen-thirties – it was very real and scandalous – the mere existence of Mrs Wallis Simpson, the future wife of Edward, was kept out of the English press (although the other papers in America and elsewhere had a field day) and the acceptance of this is necessary to give validity to the dramatic qualities of this play which deals with the real dilemmas facing the Royal Family at the time and the crisises and pressures, both political and personal, that they went through.

Set in Marlborough House, the home of the widowed Queen Mary, the play covers the months before the abdication and dramatises the conflict between the Queen’s viewpoint as a Queen and as a mother and her attempts to prevent her eldest son taking a step which she knows will, apart from its effect on England and the Commonwealth, have unbearable consequences on the life and future of her second son and her grandchildren.

She is the focus of the play and Patricia Routledge plays her as a woman very conscious of her position and above all her duty – she has been a pawn in the Royal Matrimonial game (when her original fiancé died she was promptly married to his brother) and she finds it difficult to relate her understanding of the duties of the Throne with her sons insistence on marrying for love. Not until the end of the play in an epilogue set after the war does she show any signs of relenting.

Miss Routledge is a powerful actress but in the first half of the play I found it difficult to accept that she was a Queen. A stern and somewhat didactic headmistress, used to getting her own way and indifferent to the feelings of others – yes – but a royal personage – no. This impression was negated in the second act when she becomes the Queen Mother in every sense and one appreciated what a strong and subtle performance Miss Routledge was giving.

The scene in which she stiffens the resolve of her second son, the future George VI, (Richard Hansell) was moving and an effective contrast to her arguments with Rufus Wright as Edward on the subject of Love and Duty when the Queen took over from the mother.

The rest of the cast impersonating historical characters were effectual in their scenes, in particular Emma Handy as an impassioned Duchess of York and Laurence Kennedy as Walter Monckton bringing reason to bear on the situation, but at the end of the day the strength of the play was in Miss Routledge’s performance and by the final curtain I was fully won over by her.

This is a well constructed and thought provoking play but as I have already indicated I question its relevance in this day and age. But apart from that it is a very good evening in the Theatre – a well acted and directed play is always worth going to see and this certainly falls into that category .

Crown Matrimonial by Royce Ryton.

Directed by David Grindley.
Designer – Jonathan Fensom.
Lighting – Jayson Taylor.
Sound – Gregory Clarke.

CAST: Patricia Routledge, Rufus Wright, Emma Handy, Richard Hansell, Sam Hoare, Darlene Johnson, Laurence Kennedy, Jennifer Oscard, Rebecca Saire, Augustina Seymour, Domenic Cazenove, Alison Mead and Laura Pennycard.

Presented by Fabian Productions Ltd, Act Productions Ltd & St. Elmo Productions – An Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford Production.

Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Monday, June 30 to Saturday, July 5, 2008.
Evenings: 7.45pm.
Matinees: Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm.

Box Office: 0870 060 6651.