Revenants (Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh)

Posted: August 14, 2018 in Theatre

Writer: Nichola NcAuliffe      Director: Patrick Sandford

⭐️⭐️💫

The fascination of screen and stage writers with all things House of Windsor shows no signs of abating, so there is little surprise in finding that a central figure in Nichola McAuliffe’s new play is our present Queen’s grandmother. Much more surprising is the discovery that the key themes of this account of Queen Mary’s picnic in the woods in the later years of World War II are homophobia and American racism.

McAuliffe herself takes on the role of the haughty Queen, playing her as wiser and kinder than the cold fish the we are used to seeing in historical dramas. She is accompanied by Ernest Thesiger (Peter Straker), a closeted gay actor who had appeared in the film Bride of Frankenstein and Walcott (Kevin Moore), her Jamaican British chauffeur. The conversation in the opening scene gives us a potted history of the first half of the 20th Century, during which the Queen dwells on her regret that she and her husband, King George V, had refused requests to help the Romanovs to escape to exile following the 1917 Russian Revolution.

When the conversation drifts repeatedly to figures – Wilde, Coward, Mountbatten and the Queen’s own son, the late Duke of Kent – who were or are thought to have been gay, we get a first hint of the direction in which the play is going. And then, the calm is broken by a young rifle-bearing American soldier, GI Monk (Tok Stephen), who is defecting from the black barracks of a nearby base. Monk educates Her Majesty on the racism that he has to endure both in the military and back home in the Deep South.

This is interesting stuff and well played, but Patrick Sandford’s production has a very old-fashioned feel and the stage design looks makeshift. More significantly, the writer’s aim to give her themes a modern context seem ham-fisted, particularly in an awfully misjudged epilogue which assesses continuing discrimination through to 2018. McAullife has enough experience in theatre to know that, if a story is told well enough, audiences can be trusted to work out such things for themselves.

There are no doubts that Revenants has its heart in the right place. In fact, it shows the makings of a very good play, but it is not there yet and both the script and the production need a lot more polishing.

Performance date: 9 August 2018

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

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