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Posts Tagged ‘Wallis Simpson’

It’s surprising how much you learn about Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, from a play in which she’s a character who remains offstage. Nicholas Wright cleverly tells the story through her two biographers – Caroline Blackwood and Diana Mosley – and her lawyer & assistant.

The play takes place in the Duchess’  Paris home late in her life when she is a recluse guarded by the somewhat imposing lawyer / advisor / friend Maitre Suzanne Blum. Lady Caroline Blackwood is trying to get an interview with the Duchess for a Sunday supplement, dangling the carrot of a Snowden photo shoot. In the end, she opts for an interview with the secretive but fascinating Blum herself. The play happens before she writes her biography of the Duchess; indeed the events the play focuses on may have inspired her to write it. 

The characters and the play speculate on the relationship. Is she just a gatekeeper? Is she ripping off the Duchess by selling her possessions? Is she just an up-market groupie? Is she in love with her? The rip off theory seems to be dismissed by Lady Diana’s investigations and interrogations (she’s already written her biography) but the rest is left ambiguous.

I’ve seen some stunning performances in the last two weeks – Mark Rylance in Jerusalem, Douglas Hodge in Inadmissable Evidence and Tasmin Greig in Jumpy – and Sheila Hancock here as Maitre Blum is another one. With a very authentic sounding French accent, her performance is very nuanced and subtle. Anna Chancellor had less than two weeks between coming off the Minerva Chichester stage (well, floor actually) and her first performance here. I loved her in the first act, but felt she pushed it too far in the second. John Heffernan’s transition from mere assistant to protector was well played and Angela Thorne’s cameo as Lady Diana Mosley was terrific (though she did have some great lines, including some lovely references to her Nazi sympathies). Lord Snowden is another character who remains offstage.

Anthony Ward’s opulent Parisian drawing-room is perfect for both period and station and Richard Eyre’s direction as sensitive as always. I’m not sure its a great play – I suspect I won’t remember it as long as Wright’s best play, Vincent in Brixton – but it’s well worth seeing, for Sheila Hancock’s performance if nothing else.

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