Edinburgh Fringe 2012
A brilliantly understated essay, as much a historical retrospective as it it the contemplation of an individual’s journey.
In 1936 the present Queen’s great-uncle Edward VIII abdicated the throne in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson. It was the end of a constitutional and cultural crisis which had rocked the political establishment. It was also the beginning of Edward’s long exile from public life. The former King Emperor was created Duke of Windsor and aside from his wartime governorship of the Bahamas, Edward would always lack a positive purpose. His fecklessness, his idleness, his scandalous infatuation with Wallis were to grow ever more pronounced as the playboy prince lived out the life inactive.
As both writer and performer, Bob Kingdom’s portrait is taken whilst Edward struggles to deliver on a lucrative contract for his memoirs. We see him reflective, poised and at times resolute. Yet his anxiety to communicate with his distant love (from whom his publishers are keeping him) is as constant as it is overarching. Edward is Douglas Adams-esque in his ability to avoid putting pen to paper.
The script perfectly captures the vagueness to which Edward was ever susceptible. The subject never seems entirely clear when he is. At times the events of the Abdication Crisis feel immediate but then there might be a reference to Prince Philip or a ancient memory of Edward’s own father. The effect is wonderfully lyrical – a quality demanded from an actor also presenting Dylan Thomas: Return Journey this year.
When the muses of the Fringe determined that An Audience would be presented in Assembly 3 they gave this production a perfect space. Kingdom’s intimate performance is impressive but never impressionistic, stylish but never stylized. The clever harmony of sound, light as well as the use of space all contribute to the sense that we a watching a caged lion, struggling to maintain his dignity. Kingdom’s rendering of Edward’s frustration at his parents, his in-laws, his exile, his heart rending need for affection hold the audience spell-bound. His calm delivery is an object lesson in how the most striking acting can often come from the slightest gesture. I was so close that I feared to slurp my Red Bull for fear of raising the royal eyebrow.
This low key production is capable of maintaining itself in the higher gears. Kingdom’s (very) occasional slips and wanderings are in need of a better concealment. He could for instance allow his audience to imagine that Edward is practising turns of phrase for his memoirs.
When the historical Edward abdicated he left in his wake a barrage of questions that grew as the years drifted by. Would Edward (as he was always called in public) have made a better king than David (as he was known to intimates) did the Duke of Windsor. Would England under Edward have been more susceptible to the rough wooing of Nazi diplomatists? This brilliantly understated essay is as much a historical retrospective as it it the contemplation of an individual’s journey.