It is a little known fact among those who have yet to be granted admittance to the murky crevices of the Whingers’ inner circle (a geometrical unlikelihood, granted) that Phil is contractually obliged to address Andrew as “HRH”.
Behind Phil’s back, Andrew calls his whinging chum “The Duchess” or sometimes “that fat, Scottish cook” as Mrs Wallis Simpson aka the Duchess of Windsor would apparently refer to the Queen Mother.
So the Whingers felt very at home and sympathetic to Lena Farugia‘s neatly titled play about Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor: Untitled, now playing at the Finborough Theatre.Wallis was of course the divorcée who stole the heart of King Edward VIII, triggering the abdication crisis and thereby changing the course of royal history.
For Miss Farugia’s first play she mostly imagines the Duchess in her sitting room at the Villa Windsor in the Bois de Boulogne during the late 1970s. The Duke died in 72 and Wallis has another decade or so to go but already she is (and again the parallels with the Whingers are quite astonishing) isolated, frail and addled.
The story is told mostly by the Duchess (Nichola McAuliffe) reminiscing about her life to her butler Douglas (Patrick Ryecart) and the occasional flashback in which the latter plays the Duke of Windsor.
As an approach to story-telling it’s not very promising. So was it the quality of the story, the witticisms, the first rate performances or the admirable amount of vodka consumed on stage that accounted for one of the most sublimely enjoyable evenings the Whingers have spent in a theatre – fringe or proper – for many a moon? Having mocked Three Days of Rain for its exhausting Act 1 exposition we must now eat our words and congratulate Miss Farugia on her brilliantly conceived exposition. She is helped, of course, by the fact that it is one of the great stories of the 20th century.
Two hours, one interval and more jokes than you could shake a stick at – what more could the Whingers ask for? There was even a nice little set featuring French windows (a win for Alex Marker); looking out of them towards the paparazzi in the distance, Wallis enquires, “Is that horror from the Sunday Express there?” which the Whingers took to be a dig at poor Mark Shenton and laughed heartily to the bemusement of the actors.
The well-dressed set also included a plastic food container on a tray which Phil took to be a clever nod to our current Queen who was discovered to keep her breakfast cereal in Tupperware containers (although why that should be so shocking eludes us).
Miss McAuliffe bears quite a resemblance to the Duchess in her geisha-going-on-80 inspired make-up. She does a pretty impressive curtsey too. McAuliffe makes a much better fist of the part than Madonna will.
Anyway, it was also rather moving – not least the final moments when (SPOILER) the shaking Duchess is revealed to be tied to her chair, a hangover cure Phil has often tried on Andrew and can testify has limited efficacy.
There were, inevitably, some complaints from the Whingers’ direction: a terrible smell of BO in the auditorium. Phil discreetly checked Andrew’s pits but realised that for once it was another member of the audience, someone who had clearly come to Untitlted as Unwashed.
And the domestic arrangements didn’t quite ring true – if she made such a fuss about wrinkled sheets we imagine they would have been fastidious enough to iron her napkins for her as a matter of course.
These things are forgiven though and all credit to director Peter Cregeen (most famous as the man who cancelled Doctor Who) for keeping the pace up.
So a lovely evening. Of course it helped that this was the Whingers’ second visit to a fringe venue in a matter of days at the invitation of the producers. And not only did they get “reserved” signs thoughtfully placed on their seats for them, they were also given free programmes and wine vouchers! We were treated like royalty and if this is what being exiled to the fringe is like then count us in.
- The Finborough Brasserie downstairs does a lovely mushroom risotto and a fabulous vanilla cheesecake with lime syrup. We could quite get into this fringe thing. A large glass of wine is £5 though. On the other hand the (agreeably quiet) music included Anita Ward singing “Ring My Bell”.
- To find out more about the topic, why not join the Duke and Duchess of Windsor Society?
- Andrew was given plenty of new ideas for Phil’s funeral which he has been planning down to every last detail. Taking inspiration from the Duchess of Windsor’s funeral service no reference will be made to Phil’s life nor even any mention of his name. Phil meanwhile worries that (like the Duchess) no plot will be large enough for Andrew’s body, has no ideas for his funeral but may flush his ashes down an Old Vic loo, provided it’s not a night when Coronation Street‘s on and he’s too busy.
- It won’t be the best play of the year. But in related news the What’s On Stage Theatregoers’ Choice Awards 2009 have just deemed Under The Blue Sky to be the Nick Hern Books Best New Play although it is actually quite an old play, not a new play. Sadly, in the heat of the moment, Doctor David Eldridge (right, with Whingers) forgot to thank the Whingers in his acceptance speech. Anyway, we forgive you Dr E, and heartily congratulate you.