theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
J B Miller is not the first person to write about a world in which the Germans invade Britain. Doubtless he will not be the last. Noël Coward, for instance, gave us Peace in Our Time. Nor is Miller the first playwright to put the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and their irritating, incontinent dog, Mr Loo, at the centre of the action – Snoo Wilson did it with HRH. And it didn’t work then either.
Holed up in the Royal Suite at the Dorchester, the Duke (Tim Faulkner) and Duchess (Toni Kanal) are visited by Von Ribbentrop (Matthew Wynn) who is trying to broker a deal to put the Duke back on the throne – in name only – but Wallis insists on £20 million if they are to accept. Also in the mix is Noël Coward (Matthew Phillips) as a spy and ‘Bertie’, King George VI (Alec Walters), disguised as a bellhop with a fake moustache.
All of this suggests farce but the first ten minutes of the play are written and played so straight that it feels as if we might be in for a serious, thought–provoking piece using a few substantiated and unsubstantiated facts about Coward’s wartime activities, and the Duke and Duchess’s Nazi sympathies. What actually follows is a tepid comedy with some hackneyed in-jokes about theatricals and the Royal Family, not to mention weak performances from Wynn and Walters as the Nazi and the King. And, since comedy or farce must be rooted in reality, especially if one is going to play around with history, glaring errors – the Duke did not go to Eton but was privately tutored – destroy the illusion, as does the set, which suggests tatty wartime digs in a seedy part of town rather than a world-famous British hotel. The sound effects, meanwhile, betray a system in need of an overhaul.
Tim Faulkner, although far too tall for the part, manages a remarkable likeness to ‘David’, both physically and emotionally, as well as making the most of the comedy. Matthew Phillips is excellent at ‘doing a Coward’, providing the perfect example of how to play a real person, whose vocal tics and mannerisms are so well-known, without a hint of caricature. Someone should offer him the part of Noël elsewhere.
The casting of the beautiful, petite Toni Kanal as Wallis Simpson seems misguided. Wallis, although she could ‘never be too rich or too thin’, was rather masculine in appearance and had a core of steel at her centre. Not helped by the script nor, it would seem, her director, Kanal is too soft to suggest the woman who changed the course of British history, a woman who cared more about her own comfort than the suffering of others.
The Dorchester is simply not funny enough and I can’t help feeling that J B Miller ought to have put his historical knowledge to work on a serious play.
Sarah Vernon © 2007
Originally published on R&V on 18-11-07
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