19 Tory St, Wellington

12/02/2016 - 14/02/2016

NZ Fringe Festival 2016 [reviewing supported by WCC]

Production Details

History! Royalty! Comedy! 

There is no chopping off their heads (fortunately) or letting them eat cake (unfortunately) but QUEENS is a fresh display of leaders who have influenced history. From Cleopatra to Lady Macbeth to Helen Clark, this show provides 10 roles for women which one woman is greedily performing all of. 

Cleopatra, Helen Clark, Boudicca the Celtic Queen, Lady Macbeth, Anne of Cleves, Elizabeth I, Queen Amidala, T-Rex and a few secret Queens feature in the one hour(ish) show, which is free(ish). This narcissistic quest of Lady Maria Williams (she owns 1 square foot in Scotland, so yes, technically a Lady) is written by “Wellington’s Sam Brooks” Uther Dean and “Auckland’s Uther Dean” Sam Brooks.

‘Queens’ is a comic work with a serious purpose. This means that while its overriding gesture is towards entertaining the audience, which is done always with an eye towards a more sober goal. History is still plagued by what is called “Great Man Theory” which is to say that women’s contributions are erased. We want the work to shine a very bright (and hilarious) light on some of the stand out cases of the great women who have been overshadowed by the great men.

Uther Dean is prolific in Wellington for his work, and has won multiple awards for his work with My Accomplice. My Accomplice created the award winning WATCH in 2014 and are returning their show A Play about Space to the 2016 NZ Fringe Festival. Dean won the ‘Spirit of the Fringe’ award in 2013, has participated in NZ Fringe since he was 12-yr-old.

Dean’s Young and Hungry play ‘The Presentation of Findings from My Scientific Survey of the First 7500 Days of My Life, Done in the Interest of Showing You How to Live Better Lives debuted in Wellington in 2015, with Maria Williams playing the read role.

Sam Brooks won Playmarket’s Playwrights b4 25 two years in a row, he has had 8 shows in the Basement theatre in two years, and returns to the 2016 NZ Fringe Festival with his second solo show. Brooks’ first solo show Stutterpop was at Bats in 2015, as was his Young and Hungry play The 21st Narcissist. 

This is Maria’s 8th national Fringe festival as an enthusiastic spectator, but first Fringe festival as a performer.

“I like Dean’s writing. It’s poetical and goes to weird places in order to explore what it is to be human.” – Kris, The Wellingtonista, on Uther Dean’s Tiny Deaths

“Queen is brilliantly written and acted and provides a great night of entertainment, but what sets it apart from other shows is its ability to teach humankind to be more human and more kind.” – Sharu, Gay Outing, on Sam Brooks’ Queen (2013).

“Why are you here? You should be doing comedy” – Prof Rod and Prof Joany, Maria’s university lecturers.

17 Tory St  
February 12th-14th

Theatre , Solo ,

Strange and compelling

Review by Lena Fransham 13th Feb 2016

Maria Williams takes on a bunch of boss women in this Enablers production written by Sam Brooks and Uther Dean. Williams proves flexible through a series of vignettes depicting a bevy of historical queens and the odd non-historic, or prehistoric character.

First is Cleopatra, preparing to die grandly by asp, but her big exit speech is repeatedly interrupted by ever more ridiculous digressions. She makes the room quake with an ego bigger than her voice, so she certainly holds the stage, although the lack of tonal variation starts to wear a bit.

I do like Boudicca. Her gorgeous Scottish lilt is a liberal but fair-enough speculation on the speech of the Iceni in ancient Norfolk (they didn’t speak English as we know it anyway) but it helps to impart an aura of indomitable Celtic warrior, along with some imperious posturing as she pitches the plotline of the Hollywood blockbuster that was never made about her extraordinary first century AD rebellion against the Romans.

Williams can flesh out a character with guts and flair. She is likeably cynical and believably solid as Anne of Cleves, the least unfortunate (or perhaps the cleverest) of the wives of Henry VIII. Then there’s a Cretaceous ‘queen’ who is silly and creatively executed, but I’m not sure she fits quite right – definitely keeps you guessing for a while though. New Zealand’s ‘queen’, Helen Clark, is immediately recognisable although the timing lacks the polish of some of the earlier humour. 

The pattern of these portraits suggests an intention of telling the untold story, affirming the historical women as human beings and leaders, digging around the roots of the official narrative or lack thereof, playing with what qualities they might have shown if they could have written their own histories. They’re funny, and in the case of Boudicca, for instance, their portrayals make incisive commentary, although in other cases it would be satisfying to see more exploration. 

In interludes between the queens, Williams reads passages of what sounds like an awkward personal memoir, reflecting on her insecurities, her failures, the nature of anxiety and her relationship with her mother. The passages are delivered with a palpable vulnerability, and are a radical shift from the self-importance of the queens. There’s a convincing sense that rather than another character, the real Maria Williams is interjecting her own story here. 

She uses handheld lamps both as props and as manually effected lighting (technical design Michael Trigg) to mark transitions and intensify focus. It’s around the Boudicca point that the flow is noticeably interrupted by apparent technical glitches with the lamps and Williams’ own focus seems to slip, as she breaks character to exclaim on the disruption and comments to the audience about the shambles. She thereafter resorts often to a script and at one point seems to stuff up the monologue disastrously, falling silent for a full minute in an attempt to refocus, then confessing to us that she has made a mess of it. On consulting the script she realises aloud that she did have the right line after all. While she seems absolutely confounded for long moments, Williams puts the dropped ball back into play by talking the audience through the crisis, and she never loses our sympathy; in fact quite the opposite. I also wonder if the vocal way she handles the mistakes is perhaps partly due to her familiarity with a number of the audience members.  

For a long time it’s surreal – sometimes these disruptions seem accidental, sometimes not. I spend a while pondering the idea of Williams’ stumbling and recovering as part of a fascinating experiment in storytelling, interweaving the actor’s concurrent subjective experience into the fictionalised performance. Are these apparent meltdowns really just an illustrative but real life extension of those interspersed confessional passages, the written reflections on anxiety and feelings of failure? Such possibilities! It could almost be pulled off as such, except that things just get too muddled to get a proper sense of the thematic arc and potential power of the piece. 

Ultimately it’s like watching a rehearsal with all the raw, messy processes of production in full view, and this is strange and compelling in its own way. It’s obvious by the end that there’s a serious want of preparation and some really unfortunate technical issues and, while there’s a kind of fascinating magic in Williams’ handling of the problems, the resulting confusion dominates the show and I feel like I have missed a lot.

My friend and I spend ages talking about it afterwards, mystified and intrigued by the experience. I would love to see what it looks like when the parts are all working as they should. 


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