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Review of A Princess Undone by Richard Stirling at Park Theatre

A PRINCESS UNDONE - Felicity Dean (HRH the Princess Margaret) Photo by Simon Annand
A PRINCESS UNDONE – Felicity Dean (HRH the Princess Margaret) Photo by Simon Annand

Royalists have little to worry about in A Princess Undone, which should really be called A Princess Intact, where the focal point seems to be the clear out of old correspondence and newspaper clippings, a process of decluttering. This included, as the show’s programme points out, some private papers. These would ordinarily have ended up in the Royal Archives, at Windsor Castle. But one doesn’t get the sense that history is being meddled with, merely that HRH Princess Margaret (Felicity Dean) is acting out of spite. There are put-downs of Diana, Princess of Wales – well, there are put-downs of quite a few people, with occasional remarks that are almost as acerbic as certain statements attributed to Princess Michael of Kent.

This puts the production at odds with royal biographer William Shawcross, who asserted that Princess Margaret had arranged for letters and other papers to be destroyed in order to protect HM The Queen Mother, HM The Queen and other royals (possibly including Diana) from private opinions that could show them in a bad light being exposed to the public at some point in the future. This show would have done well to find a way to show the possibility of such motives, rather than portraying it simply as tidying up.

William Tallon (Richard Stirling), butler to HM The Queen Mother, conducts himself in a way that, if continued, would see his services surplus to the Royal Household’s requirements. Equally implausible is that Princess Margaret would have given her entire staff the evening off, forcing a reliance on someone who technically works for someone else, except that the papers to be destroyed are in HM The Queen Mother’s accommodation, so the only way to gain access to them is by commandeering her staff. After all that, the papers become secondary as far as the storyline is concerned, despite being strewn across the stage, to conversations with three different men.

I have already mentioned the first. The second is Tristan Peel (Alexander Knox), apparently, a friend of Margaret’s son David, styled at the time as Viscount Linley, who makes a brief appearance, mostly in order to warn the Princess about John Bindon (Patrick Toomey). But Margaret already knew him, and knew about him, and much of the second half is taken up with the rather intimidating Bindon being as – generally speaking – as unpleasant as his royal host. The audience learns little about Margaret or any of the other characters, onstage or off, and I wonder how someone who wasn’t around or hasn’t lived in Britain for long enough to recall Margaret’s idiosyncrasies would be able to piece together what exactly is going on.

What, pray tell, is the message this play wishes to put forward? Not for want of trying, I couldn’t detect one. It is, at least, mildly amusing. I liked a quip about one of Margaret’s relatives, known as “Tugboat Annie as she goes from peer to peer”. Too much of the dialogue, however, is centred on setting up for the next punchline, as though this were a television situation comedy with a script deliberately intended to produce laughter at regular intervals, regardless of the cost to plot and character development. Dean’s Margaret is convincing, with some astute self-awareness. Indeed, all the actors do well with what they are given, but the play could benefit from a tighter script that takes audiences on more of a journey.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

Kensington Palace, 1993. She was the Diana of her day. That day has gone, but HRH The Princess Margaret seeks one final chance to be of service.

Acquiring potentially sensational letters from Charles and Diana, she means to burn the evidence. But there are other papers, relating to Margaret herself. And when an ex-gangster admirer returns from her past, the Queen’s sister has the choice to make or break her family yet again.

In Netflix’s hit series The Crown, Margaret re-emerged as the most controversial and enigmatic member of the Royal Family. Craig Brown’s recent best-selling Ma’am Darling reinforces how infuriating yet compelling her story still is.

A Princess Undone – inspired by actual events – sheds new light on the last real princess.

CAST:
Felicity Dean – Princess Margaret
Alexander Knox – Tristan Peel
Richard Stirling – William Tallon
Patrick Toomey – John Bindon

CREATIVES:
Jonny Kelly – Director
Norman Coates – Set Designer
Boo Williams – Costume Designer
Gareth Mcleod – Sound Designer
Rob Ellis – Associate Director

Plays: 20 Feb – 17 Mar 2018
Park Theatre
Park 90
Clifton Terrace, Finsbury Park
London N4 3JP

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