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The Duchess a.k.a. Wallis Simpson

 

The Duchess  a.k.a. Wallis Simpson
By Linda Griffiths
Directed by Sarah Rodgers
Theatre at UBC
Telus Studio Theatre
Sep 20 to Oct 6, 2012

Vancouver, BC.  Linda Griffith's play is a challenging piece of theatre but under the direction of Sarah Rodgers, the ten students of UBC's final year BFA class, playing 25 characters, managed to pull it off with a flair that would have made the duchess proud.  Griffiths has re-imagined the commonly known saga of the love affair between Edward VIII, reluctant heir to the throne of England,  and the charming upstart American divorcee, Wallis  Simpson, later Duchess of Windsor, for whom he renounced his crown.

She sets the story within the frame of the auctioning of the duchess's jewellery collection. The famed rubies, sapphires, emeralds and diamonds are reflected in the jewel tones of the gorgeous costumes designed by Miriam Thom.

Griffiths also injects Noël Coward into the story as observer/ narrator/ and participant in the London social scene surrounding Edward and Wallis. With the musically multi-talented Alexander Keurvorst, who was able to bring out both the suaveness and acerbity of Coward,  Rodgers innovatively uses Coward's songs to integrate elements of the story.

I think part of the challenge of this play for me lay in the fact that the drama of the relationship and the abdication, at a time when Britain was facing war with Hitler's Germany, is historical and in the realm of common knowledge, yet this is a play not a documentary and obviously we see events unfold through the eyes of Wallis as Griffiths sees her. So what is "real" ? That being said,  Pippa Johnstone as Wallis and Kenton Klassen  (Edward) had great chemistry and I found the proposal scene the strongest in the show. The absolute devotion of Edward to Wallis was so tangible at that moment that it was  transformational: a wonderful moment by Klassen. Johnstone was outstanding as the Duchess, bringing out her fears, her ambitions and the severity of her hair and dress.

The other cast members also shone as they played multiple roles. The period dancing was fun to watch, although I don't intend to introduce the Black Bottom to my dance repertoire any time soon.

Overall the cast and crew are to be commended for an entertaining show.

For tickets  call the Theatre at UBC Box Office at 604-822-2678