Edinburgh Fringe 2018
She won a King’s heart in the 40 year romance known around the world as The Love Story of the 20th century. In December 1936, King Edward VIII abdicated his throne for the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. Despite being vilified by the Royal Family and branded as an “adventuress”, the “King’s whore” and worse, she became an unlikely but potent global symbol of female empowerment and a worldwide social icon. But even with all that has been written about her, Wallis remained an enigma.
The stage set with an armchair, photo’s on a sideboard, a glass of brandy – and a constant supply of whisky. Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor, welcomes us to her home in Paris, a year or so after her ‘beloved David’ has died in the 1972.
Described as the love story of the 20th century much has been written about Edward, briefly King in 1936 and his marriage to twice divorced American socialite, Walls Simpson. Despite much written about and her own book in 1956 she has remained an enigma.
In this solo play Wallis (Melissa Jobe) takes us on a journey through her life, from childhood in Baltimore, through her two marriages and travels in Asia, to meeting the future Edward VIII who loved all things American (he had already had at least one American mistress) and who fell for her on sight. They were both part of an immensely privileged international socialite circle; as Wallis tells us ‘The course of history was changed by a series of parties’.
The writer Scott Smith has clearly researched the life and times of Wallis Simpson in detail and has created an absorbing insider account of her life and marriage. Jobe, resplendent in a gold brocade dress, a matching full length jacket, pearls, and brooch, then delivers this beautifully written piece in a deliciously gossipy manner that leaves us with a sense of having been allowed a peak behind the scenes. She shares anecdotes, stories and observations mostly with a wry sense of humour, just occasionally there is an element of bitterness when she relates the way that both of them were treated as outcasts by the Royal Family.
She commands the stage with a nuanced performance that holds the audience throughout (despite the hum of the air con, do choose a seat on the far side when you go). Her delivery is very direct, thanking us for joining her at this soiree, that life is lonely since her ‘dear David’ died.
There’s a sort of delicious frisson about the whole thing, hearing the gossip first hand. The day I saw it there was a fairly small audience and I felt that the intimate nature of the piece would benefit from a smaller venue and a thrust stage to bring us physically closer to her.
Overall, a highly recommended hidden gem, well worth catching before the end of the festival.