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A CurtainUp London Review
Set in her house in Paris, we meet Wallis at the end of her life. An old woman with Parkinson's Disease, but still immaculately coiffed and dressed, she sits in a chair overlooking the Bois de Boulogne, her arms shaking and tied to the arms of the chair. She is widowed but still besieged by the press. She thinks people are stealing her jewellery or her knick- knacks which she has mislaid. Her sole companion is a manservant in morning coat with tails who is pouring vodka onto ice in a silver beer tankard. Never accepted as one of the Royal Family, Wallis tells her story from the days in Maryland where she learned how to flirt, to her second marriage to the British American businessman Ernest Simpson. She was married to Simpson when she met the then Prince of Wales at a house party. Her story brings us up to the 1980s, the abdication crisis, married life, the problem of what to do with a dethroned monarch, their relations with the Royal Family and the fallout after the death of the Duke of Windsor in 1972. The current letters are to do with the proposed site of her grave next to that of the duke at Frogmore and a request to return the crested notepaper that had been used by the duke.
This well researched piece tells Wallis' story from her point of view. It therefore feels unbalanced but still makes a good drama if not a wholly accurate one. Wallis answers some of the criticisms of her, like the alleged involvement with Hitler's Germany with criticism of the Royal Family's own relations with Germany. The script is full of witty digs at the family she failed to join and who withheld from her the title Her Royal Highness (parallels with Diana after her divorce who was also refused this title). She calls her sister-in- law, the late Queen Mother Elizabeth, the fat Scottish cook and she alludes to Noel Coward's comment saying that they should erect a statue to Mrs Simpson (as she was most commonly known) for ridding England of Edward VIII!
The set is nicely detailed with a writing desk, photographs in silver frames and elegant chairs and windows overlooking the gardens. Those who were Wallis' enemies and saw her as an opportunist (the Duke was her third husband) said of the Duke of Windsor, "In England he started as the Admiral of the Fleet and ended up Third Mate of an American Tramp." The Duchess of Windsor was a style icon and her sense of fashion, jewellery and cosmetics was second to none. It was her quote, "You can never be too rich or too thin." It is very sad to see her being spoon fed banana by the valet at the end of her life.
Nichola McAuliffe is wonderful — her stylish presence as the elegant, wronged wife who was willing to give up Edward and be his mistress is a memorable performance. Patrick Ryecart too as the manservant who switches in the recollection scenes into being Edward Windsor is contained, regal and similarly effective. Untitled is well directed by Peter Cregeen allowing Ryecart to change roles without a costume change and with hardly a change of accent into the Royal prince. It is as if we are able to see Wallis drifting off into her memories of a wonderful lifestyle with the rich and famous. Of course fabulous as it was, the Windsors felt slighted. McAuliffe shows signs of early dementia, as largely reclusive, she forgets she has just had the conversation about whether there will be enough room for her grave between that of the Duke of Windsor and the hedge. Like many who can't remember the present, her recall of the past is perfect.
Untitled is a brilliantly acted and directed piece and at £13 for the best seats in this theatre above the Finborough pub much better value than the West End.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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