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Review: You can actually see a drag version of Princess Diana

Nick Duffy April 23, 2015
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Have you ever wanted to see a man who can play both Princess Diana and Wallis Simpson?

No? Well, good news – on the fringes of the London theatre world, almost everything you never asked for is already a reality.

In a move that seems single-mindedly driven to upset the Daily Express, ‘Dead Royal’ ruminates on the life of the late Princess of Wales, Diana Spencer, and her predecessor in infamy, Duchess of Windsor Wallis Simpson.

Comparisons to Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho are inevitable – both being drag-based shows satirising traditional British icons – but Dead Royal takes a more character-driven, sober look at its subjects while ribbing them with parody.

The show focuses on a fictionalised meeting between the pair in 1981, prior to the wedding of Charles and Diana, as the woman who nearly caused the collapse of the British monarchy meets the one intended to save it.

Wallis Simpson is at the end of her life, living out a tormented and bitter existence in exile alone in Paris – while Princess Di is young, wide-eyed and terrified, just before her own wedding.

The name of the show is a promise that is never really delivered – the death of Diana remains mostly in subtext and snippets – but there is still plenty of material to work from.

None of the royals get off lightly – with the late Queen Mother in particular taking a hefty amount of vitriol as the pair rant and swear through an evening.

Lead actor Chris Ioan Roberts does almost everything in this intimate one-man effort – writing, directing, and switching between heels and wigs in both the main roles. You feel at times like it’s taking a lot of self-control to stop him also doing the sound and lighting, and we’d be unsurprised to find him sweeping up after the show too.

Roberts should be commended for the manner in which he encompasses the manner of the royals – to take what could have been just a high-camp mockery, into a high-camp mockery that is actually entertaining.

It’s off-the-walls surreal, gloriously offensive, and dripping with anecdotes and in-jokes that will appeal on some level, no matter your thoughts on the monarchy that inspires it.

At just an hour in length the show does feel cut painfully and abruptly short… though that might just be the point.

Dead Royal is playing at the Ovalhouse Theatre until Saturday.

Related topics: Dead Royal, drag, drag queen, Gay, London, monarch, Princess Diana, review, Theatre, Wallis Simpson

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