By Danielle Farrow
The Queen’s Speech is intriguing. Jules Hobbs, performer and writer of this solo show based Shakepeare’s The Tempest, has chosen a contemporary setting for looking at Miranda, now middle aged, and with more grievances than blessings. Outwardly, things had been going well until just recently, when a revolution sees Miranda under palace arrest, other members of her family likewise so – though separately – or else in Milan. Inwardly, Miranda’s life has not been all she’d hoped for.
The setting of plush surroundings is served pretty well by decent shawls as table cloths, a satin cover for the chair, Miranda’s velveteen dress, jewellery and nicely accessorised scarves which change to signify the passing of time, a chess board and pieces, and a china coffee pot with two delicate cup and saucer sets. Apt and entertaining music accompanies time changes, and there are some clear atmospheric scene setting sounds. Lighting is a simple wash, with blackouts for change of scene, and a new setting is elegantly achieved by the removal of coverings.
The title is also apt, with Miranda addressing her audience in the manner to which Brits are accustomed, and a lovely piece of writing contrasts and parallels two speeches which show the changes that have occurred recently for the character and lead us into gaining knowledge about this Miranda. Throughout, characters and circumstances of The Tempest are referred to, along with some quotes, filtered through a particular interpretation. This interpretation ignores any true forgiveness and understanding found by Prospero – a key aspect of Shakespeare’s creation – and focuses on what appears to be the basic idea that anyone born to privilege cannot really be decent and anyone in a lower social position must have a heart of gold and be an all-round great fellow. Deliberately or otherwise, signs of deeper understanding for Miranda are not as credible, neither in writing nor in playing, as the self-centred characterisation, which is very clear, sharply and entertainingly executed. This leaves the character without a believable true inner journey, and with little connection to the wonder of Shakespeare’s Miranda, whose greetings to anyone she meets avoids any sign of the kind of prejudice that would have to have been drilled into her by Prospero on the island to create the Miranda we are told of.
What Hobbs does achieve, though, is an interesting and overall believable woman, without much sense of responsibility, but with real difficulties to deal with and a certain strength of character, however lacking in positive traits. It is an achievement that she makes such a person entertaining to watch and hear.
As an exploration of The Tempest, The Queen’s Speech focuses on topical issues of class and wealth at the expense of forgiveness and understanding, possibly wanting to reach these anew, but without managing to convey this convincingly. Otherwise, though, the writing and performance is excellently pitched in its wry humour, connection to audience, arched characterisation and confident delivery.
An entertaining and thought-provoking production.
2, 4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15 August, 15:00 (15:50) @ Gryphon@WestEnd