A Princess Undone
Reviewed – 26th February 2018
“this regal rendezvous has small glimmers of brilliance but is left feeling as muddied as Princess Margaret’s name in the news”
The Royal Family have always been hot news, and this year in particular, is no exception. With another royal baby and a royal wedding on its way, the younger generations of the Windsor family are constantly being displayed as front-page headlines. This is nothing new. Before even the likes of Diana became tabloid fodder, there was one Royal whose name grew synonymous with gossip and scandal. Princess Margaret. Her Majesty’s sister had always been a somewhat elusive, mysterious figure, yet her name never strayed far away from the papers. In recent years, she has once again become a matter of interest, helped greatly by the overwhelming success and popularity of the Netflix series The Crown, and Ma’am Darling, last year’s best-selling biography by Craig Brown.
Now, it’s the theatre’s turn to try and get under the skin of Princess Margaret. Inspired by true events, actor Richard Stirling’s play, A Princess Undone, focuses on a particular moment within the late princess’ life where her antics were being upstaged by a new breed of royals, forcing Margaret to unwillingly retreat into the shadows. Stirling attempts to try and comprehend the ball of contradictions that the princess was wrapped within, however, the play is inconsistent in its execution of this, ultimately becoming a rather lacklustre and stuffy affair.
The year is 1993, a time when the Royal Family is struggling to keep face through its ‘annus horribilus’. Living within the apartments of Kensington Palace, Margaret (Felicity Dean) tries damage control, princess style, by enlisting the help of the Queen Mother’s butler, William Tallon (played by Stirling himself) to assist in stealing a selection of potentially scandalous letters, photographs and other personal correspondence from Clarence House – her mother’s residence. Whilst sifting through the piles of papers, ready to burn, Margaret coolly comments on her royal neighbours, whilst Tallon single-handedly deals with her haughty demands and droll remarks with assured repartee.
The witty yet stagnant first half includes the intrusion of the young Tristan (Alexander Knox), a friend of Margaret’s son, whose appearance is somewhat meaningless to the overall plot. It is not until the arrival of infamous gangster-come-playboy-come-actor, John Lindon (Patrick Toomey) that the dramatic tension starts to heat up.
There are moments within A Princess Undone where it shines, particularly within its humour. The sight of Felicity Dean in marigolds and a paper crown, smoking, drinking and prancing around to Desmond Dekker’s The Israelites on the record player, utterly personifies the Princess’ struggle between her dutiful persona and privately being conventional and problematic. However, there are also times where it feels bloated by the text, assuming that the audience has a decent knowledge of Princess Margaret’s life. Thank goodness I had flicked through the programme before the show is all I can say! Bogged down by its dialogue, this regal rendezvous has small glimmers of brilliance but is left feeling as muddied as Princess Margaret’s name in the news.
Reviewed by Phoebe Cole
Photography by Simon Annand
A Princess Undone
Park Theatre until 17th March