A Princess Undone

Richard Stirling
Entico Ltd, Park Theatre
Park Theatre (90)

Felicity Dean and Richard Stirling Credit: Simon Annand
Felicity Dean and Richard Stirling Credit: Simon Annand
Felicity Dean and Patrick Toomey Credit: Simon Annand

There are mysteries at the heart of Richard Stirling‘s A Princess Undone.

The character Princess Margaret (Felicity Dean) is sitting in her Kensington Palace home in 1993 as The Queen Mother’s servant William Tallon (Richard Stirling) otherwise known as Backstairs Billy is peering through binoculars at the neighbours.

All the other staff have been given the evening off so that Margaret can receive a visitor they shouldn’t know about.

While they wait, Billy hauls in some black bin bags full of letters, newspaper clippings and assorted paper belonging to Margaret’s mother which they scatter about the floor.

Maybe they intend to burn it; maybe they intend to read it; maybe they just want to entertain the guests with it. We can never be sure.

Tristan Peel (Alexander Knox) is the first visitor and he has not been invited. He claims to be a friend of Margaret’s son and gives her an envelope stolen from someone in the pub. Perhaps missing the envelope, he secretly picks up some other envelopes from the floor and stashes them away in his pocket.

Occasionally, one of the characters will stir the pile of paper in the same way a couple of them stir a meal they really don’t want to eat.

Moments before the interval, a heavy set man walks into the room and menacingly says, “hello Margaret.”

Will she survive the interval, we wonder? Have the Krays come to finish her off?

It turns out the visitor is the actor gangster John Bindon (Patrick Toomey) who has pictures of them having a fling some time back. He thought he might bring them round before he died of AIDS. They reminisce; have a dance and then he gets a bit rough.

But none of this really develops any dramatic tension or any interesting purpose. The plot and the characters seem a little contrived and unconvincing. Would, for instance, Backstairs Billy really be spying on the neighbours with binoculars in front of Margaret or be quite so flippant in his conversation?

The dialogue is an awkward combination of very witty one-liners and clunky sentence fragments that jar.

When Margaret is asked how the Queen is, she replies, “who do you mean? My sister, my mother or my ex-husband?”

There are lots of lines like that. We may not approve of their politics but they are funny. Unfortunately, the characters also speak too many strange sentence fragments. When Tristan asks if he is “free to leave”, Billy replies,“conditionally discharged.”

By the end of the play, we are none the wiser as to the fate of the paper pile or the purpose of the play. We don’t even know why Backstairs Billy got his name or why he keeps running in and out of rooms. It’s all a bit of a mystery.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna