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June 08. Patricia Routledge on stage in

Crown Matrimonial.

 

 

CROWN MATRIMONIAL, Royce Ryton?s compelling drama, focuses on the crisis that faces the nation when Edward VIII declares his deep love for Wallis Simpson. Unswayed by the prospect of public scandal, family upheaval and even abdication, he is insistent that he will marry the woman he loves.
Set in Marlborough House in 1936, this unique insight into the domestic life of the Royal Family shows the volatile relationship between Queen Mary and her son King Edward VIII caused by his love affair, and mirrors the other great royal constitutional crisis in 1997 so memorably portrayed in the film The Queen.

Click on the picture to zoom.

 

Crown 

                Matrimonial

 

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   Crown Matrimonial by Royce Ryton

    with Patricia Routledge as Queen Mary

    & Rufus Wright as King Edward VIII.

    Photo by Tritram Kenton.

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Other members of cast:

Emma Handy

Richard Hansell

Sam Hoare

Darlene Johnson

Laurence Kennedy

Rebecca Saire

Augustina Seymour

Dominic Casenove

Alison Mead

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TOUR DATES:

WED 4 ? SAT 14 JUNE

GUILDFORD?S YVONNE ARNAUD THEATRE: 01483 440000
MON 16 ? SAT 21 JUNE

THEATRE ROYAL, BATH: 01225 448844
MON 23 ? SAT 28 JUNE

CHURCHILL, BROMLEY: 0870 060 6620
MON 30 JUNE ? SAT 5 JULY

RICHMOND THEATRE: 0870 060 6651
MON 7 ? SAT 12 JULY

MALVERN THEATRES: 01684 892277
MONDAY 14 ? SAT 19 JULY

THEATRE ROYAL BRIGHTON: 08700 606 650
MONDAY 21 ? SAT 26 JULY

THE LOWRY, MANCHESTER: 0870 787 5780

 

Various reviews

 

Interviews with Patricia Routledge

PATRICIA Routledge famously starred as the appallingly snobbish Hyacinth in Keeping Up Appearances and in Hetty Wainthrop Investigates, as the elderly Lancashire sleuth.

Now she's touring the UK as Queen Mary in a revival of Royce Ryton's seventies hit play Crown Matrimonial.

It is inconceivable that the late Queen Mary, consort of George V and grandmother to the present monarch, received anything like "fan mail". Many respectful letters from loyal subjects, no doubt. But anything else, more familiar, would have been almost treasonable.

Patricia Routledge, however, does get fan mail. By the sack-load, and "from all over the world".

Millions have loved her in the BBC's Keeping Up Appearances ? where she famously played the social-climbing mistress of her suburban house ? and they also adored her as the canny sleuth Hetty Wainthrop, a lady of pensionable age who suddenly discovered that she was really rather good at solving crimes.

Now that both Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet) and Hetty are no more, although all the series are being constantly repeated on some TV channel or other ("the repeat fees pay for a nice little case of wine every now and then" chuckles Patricia), Miss Routledge is returning to the stage to play a real-life woman who is about as different to her much-loved TV creations as it is possible to imagine.

Queen Mary is ? along with King Edward VIII ? one of the main characters of Royce Ryton's hit play Crown Matrimonial, which is a detailed exploration of the astonishing events that led up to the abdication crisis of 1936.

"It is", says Patricia Routledge, "that very rare thing, a 'well-made' play. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, it is very carefully plotted, and the way that it develops is quite astonishing.

"The first scene, for example. Queen Mary is having a conversation with Edward, the King who was never ever crowned, and they are talking about his recent European tour. Without you even realising it, you're given a whole picture of the politics of the day, and what is going on, in a remarkably short space of time. Hugely skilled ? and very informative. Mr Ryton is a very interesting writer."

Edward's problem was that he had fallen head over heels in love with a married woman ? Wallis Simpson. Born American, and by now married to a British businessman, she had previously been divorced.

The establishment could (just about) tolerate Edward's misdemeanours with a string of mistresses while he was Prince of Wales, but when he came to the throne, things had to change.

"So, when he obstinately refused to give up Mrs Simpson, matters slowly came to a head", says Patricia. "He was resolutely determined to marry this lady, his family were aghast, and Queen Mary, ramrod straight and ruled by her sense of duty to the crown and to the country and the Empire, couldn't understand him or his attitude at all.

"Mary was a fascinating woman in her own right. She came from a minor branch of royalty, the Tecks ? from Denmark. Her father was a complete spendthrift, always in debt, and her mother was hugely overweight, and known as 'Fat Mary'.

"Her mother was adored by the public ? but that's not much help when you are living in genteel poverty.

"They were a strange pair, the parents, always begging money from their relations, and constantly attempting to keep one step ahead of their creditors ? of whom there were dozens!

"In fact, I discovered in my reading on Mary's background, that at one point the family were packed off to relations on the continent, so that they wouldn't end up being served with writs! They were living well above their means when their income was very limited.

"And that, you know, formed Mary's character in later life. She was determined to make a good marriage and to become completely respectable ? and respected.

"Then, horror of horrors, after being shamelessly touted around the minor crowned heads of Europe, she was betrothed to the dreadful Prince Eddy, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, eldest son of Edward VII and grandson of Queen Victoria.

"He was, not to put too fine a point on it, weak-willed and completely dissolute. The marriage was arranged ? and then he had the good sense to die. The best thing that ever happened to Mary, in my book.

"Not wishing to pass up on having a willing bride to hand, Victoria suggested that Mary marry the next son down the line and that happened to be the future George V ? who was a fairly gruff old sort in his own right."

It has been a "completely fascinating" journey for Patricia and the rest of the cast ? Rufus Wright plays Edward VIII.

"Christie Jennings, who is the wonderful assistant director to our meticulous and inspired director David Grindley, actually went to all the trouble of Googling every person who is mentioned in the play, and getting their background and their details.

"Now that has been wonderful source material for us all. And you know, I'm thrilled that our company, many of them far too young to know anything about the Queen's grandmother and her family, have enthusiastically absorbed and then perfectly interpreted everything."

She then laughs: "The thing is, I can remember the abdication crisis very, very, clearly ? because it was something that all the adults talked about in hushed tones in front of us children.

"And, certainly where I then lived, which was in the north-west of England, Wallis Simpson was NOT a popular lady. I think that it is fair to say that if she had appeared on the streets of my home town, Birkenhead, she might well have been at worst lynched, and at best pelted with something nasty!"

And, says Patricia, "I actually did once see Queen Mary in person. She and George V came up to Merseyside in 1935 or 1936, just before his death, to open the Mersey Tunnel.

"That was just for VIPs, of course, but afterwards they came over to Birkenhead, to open a new civic library, and I was there, across the road, with my mother and my brother, and with my little flag in my hand, and waving it, as proud as punch!

"Even then I could observe that the Queen was very rigid, a firm backbone. Our own Queen today, I think, has some of her grandmother's qualities ? and her devotion to duty is also legendary".

She admits: "What scared me about the play, initially, was that I had to pare away every emotional response to the situation. Her general bearing is one of complete and utter containment, and that shows in the way that you carry yourself. She has a stillness of the face, and nothing, absolutely nothing, bubbles to the surface.

"But, oh, can you imagine what is going on underneath? It's like the proverbial swan, isn't it? Serene on the surface, but the little legs going away 50 to the dozen under the water."

Another remarkable thing about Crown Matrimonial, says Routledge, "is that it was, in fact, the very first play to portray (then) living members of the royal family on a live stage.

"The Queen Mother was still with us (in the play she is still Duchess of York) and Mrs Simpson was still around when it first appeared in London, with Wendy Hiller as Mary and the late Peter Barkworth (a wonderful man and an inspirational teacher) played Edward.

"I saw one of the first performances in the initial run, and it impressed me then, and it impresses me now. You know the strangest thing? A lesser dramatist would have invented a scene where Queen Mary met Wallis Simpson, and they had a confrontational scene.

"Great drama, of course. But Ryton sticks to the truth, avoids that trap, and makes the structure even better ? now that's what I call good writing!"

Patricia has met the Queen herself ? and also the late Queen Mother, and one of the occasions sticks happily in her memory.

"I'd been asked to go and do one of my little talks for the Sandringham Women's Institute and, of course, both the ladies are (and were) members of that august institution. It seemed to go down pretty well ? I do remember chatting to the Queen afterwards about the consistency of the scones."

She chuckles: "I don't think that I can recall her bringing a home-made flan down from the big house, however!"

Patricia's love of the theatre started at a very early age. "My father was a 'High class gentleman's outfitter and haberdasher' ? everything was 'High Class' in those days if you had a reputable shop.

"And every week he'd discretely display the playbills for the show at the old Argyle Music Hall in Birkenhead in is window. In return for that, he'd receive a pair of tickets for the first house on a Monday evening, and each week he would either go with a pal, or my mother would go with a favourite uncle.

"And on the Saturday, at a regular family gathering at my grandmother's home, there would be a discussion about the merits (or not) of the turns that they'd all seen.

"I went a few times ? I saw people like Rob Wilton and Norman Evans?and, well, I think that the Argyle has to take a lot of responsibility for what happened subsequently in my life.

"I do know that I was always putting on shows at home, and selling chocolates to the family in the interval. A concert party of my own at the age of 10 ? imagine.

"Most of my ideas were culled from a joke book that my other Granny had compiled. My brother (who also played the violin) also took part, and he was always complaining that I had impressively high standards, when it came to rehearsals.

"He would always feed me the lines, so I made sure that I had the best material. But he also made me be his own second in command when he played soldiers, so I suppose that, in the long term, we were quits."

She says: "Strangely, I never felt that I was 'stage struck'. Nor am I now. I've always believed that I've been carried kicking and screaming to meet my destiny.

"My first professional role? At the Liverpool Playhouse. I was unpaid assistant stage manager for about three months before I got a speaking part, and then a wage packet which was, I recall, all of five pounds."

An impressive career gathered momentum. Patricia Routledge has conquered Broadway and the West End, and she's been constantly in demand for everything from musicals (Cowardy Custard and Carousel) to monologues especially written for her by Alan Bennett ("Now, what an honour that is!") to Shakespeare.

Her Queen Margaret in the RSC's Wars of the Roses epic is still talked about with admiration today. But you cannot deny that the role that brought her to the public's attention was Hyacinth.

She still gets recognised. "Oh yes, all the time, and people are still wonderfully generous and complimentary ? and if by doing something like that I've brought some pleasure and happiness into their lives, then that's pretty wonderful, isn't it? Mind you, I've lost track of the number of times that I've got into a cab and the driver has said: 'You're not going to tell me how to drive, are you?'"

Clive Swift, who played Hyacinth's long-suffering husband Richard, still has Patricia's fullest admiration. "In the beginning, there was very little for him to say. There wasn't much on then page. But oh, that man, he's an incredible actor. He built that part into something very, very special. That takes a lot of skill, you know."

She also loved recording Radio 4's Ladies of Letters, in which she and Prunella Scales play a pair of friends who corresponded at first by letter and now, in later series, by e-mail.

"I think that the material is just hilarious", she says, "but let me tell you a secret ? Pru and I, after the first series, have never ever been in the same studio together. She records her pieces, I record mine ? and some clever engineer and the producer edit it them together.

"We discovered that when she could get into the studio, I was off away somewhere, and when I could get in, it was she who had commitments. It just seemed sensible and practical to manage it the way that we do."

She is probably one of the most honest and direct performers that we have in the UK. She hates "people who undertake to do things, and then make a mess of it. Slapdash efforts. And bad manners. That really gets up my nose. Do I have a motto? I suppose that I do ? 'Be kind'.

"I try, I really do, but, to my shame, I am not 100 per cent of the time. But, you see, I am a perfectionist. For which I make no apology at all."

Phil Penfold. Worthing Herald.  June 2008
                                                         

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The big draw of this revival of Crown Matrimonial, Royce Ryton's play about the abdication crisis, is the presence of the great Patricia Routledge. There is no actress to beat her when it comes to playing formidable old boots, and the role of Queen Mary, the redoubtable relict of King George V, promised to find her in magnificent form.

Routledge lives up to all expectations in a performance that proves moving as well as regally commanding, but the real surprise is the play itself. Ryton's drama, first staged in the West End in 1972, was regarded as pretty safe, conventional fare even then, and 36 years on I expected it to seem like a cobweb-encrusted history lesson.

In fact, David Grindley's beautifully acted revival comes across as perhaps the most subversive drama now playing in Britain. For, as we watch King Edward VIII renouncing the monarchy in order to marry Wallis Simpson, it is impossible not to be reminded of more recent royal crises. Time and events have given Ryton's play an edge it didn't possess first time around.

Edward had to choose between the crown and Mrs Simpson, because as head of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith he couldn't be married to a divorced woman.

Yet the present Prince of Wales has not only divorced his own wife, but married the divorced woman with whom he had long been conducting an adulterous affair. Few are now suggesting that this makes him unfit to be king. The ghost of the former Edward VIII would doubtless approve.

Watching Ryton's play, however, Edward's mother, Queen Mary, offers highly persuasive arguments about the responsibilities of royalty, and the need to sacrifice love for duty, while Edward seems unattractively self-centred.

I left the theatre convinced that when the present Queen dies - and one hopes she reigns for many years to come - Charles should resign the throne in favour of his elder son. It suddenly seemed the only honourable course.

In our debased age, it is bracing to watch a play that values duty more highly than love and self-gratification. And it speaks highly of the success of Grindley's production, which I caught in Guildford, that such unfashionable arguments seem so compelling.

Routledge marvellously captures both the formidable authority of Queen Mary - at moments of disapproval her face seems to set like concrete - but also conveys the weight of emotion the old woman finds so painfully hard to express.

The scene in which she stiffens the resolve of her second son, the future George VI, who in Richard Hansell's fine performance tearfully and stammeringly confides that he would sooner face a firing squad than become king, is deeply affecting.

Rufus Wright memorably captures the superficial charm and deeper self-regard of Edward VIII, and there is fine support right through the ranks.

This is an unexpectedly gripping and thought-provoking play, shot through with flashes of dry humour. Its championship of decorum, duty and a stiff upper lip seems astonishingly attractive in comparison with today's sloppy emotionalism.

Another formidable woman is being celebrated at the Shaw Theatre in Golda's Balcony, William Gibson's one-woman play about the former prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir.

Tovah Feldshuh gives a powerful performance as the determined leader, and her agony about the possibility of nuclear Armageddon during the Yom Kippur war of 1973 is powerfully conveyed.

In the final analysis however, and in marked contrast to Crown Matrimonial, this really does seem more like a history lesson than a living play.

Charles Spencer. Telegraph

 

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Sam Marlowe. Times online.

 

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Royce Ryton's play about the Abdication crisis of 1936 has some surprising modern resonances and is anything but a period piece

 

A crisis in the monarchy as a royal prince wants to marry the divorcee with whom he?s been carrying on an adulterous affair. Can the royal family survive? No, not events of the past decade or so, but those leading up to the Abdication in 1936, explored in Royce Ryton's 1972 play Crown Matrimonial.

It explores the impact those events had on the royal household as a family and how it tore them apart, forcing many to make the choice between loyalty to their loved ones and loyalty to the throne. Set in Queen Mary's private sitting room on the first floor of Marlborough House, the agonies of the decision are played out.

As Queen Mary, Patricia Routledge is regal and frosty, but we can clearly see the toll taken on her by the crisis. Although not physically like the late queen, Miss Routledge makes such a reserved and stoic character sympathetic, even if we may not agree with her choices (informed as we are by modern morals). Against her, Rufus Wright makes for a spirited Edward VIII, trying to do the right thing but thwarted at all turns.

 

They are given excellent support by Richard Hansell as the Duke of York - the scene where he becomes king is particularly affecting, as he struggles with his stammer ? and Emma Hardy as his wife Elizabeth, not at all the sweet creature we came to know in later years as The Queen Mother.

I was pleased to discover that the play was so even-handed, not painting anyone as being absolutely in the wrong ? all the more so as it was written while The Queen Mother was still alive. Even Wallis Simpson comes out well, spoken warmly of by many of the protagonists and not portrayed as the rapacious adventuress she was all too often painted as.

It's surprising that a play written in the 1970s about the events of 1936 can be so contemporary, but perhaps it is that history allows us to see current events in a new way. Certainly the question of whether it?s acceptable for the king (or future king) to marry a divorced woman still has resonance, as does what the wife of a king should and must be called. An added frisson the author could not have anticipated was the discussion of what constitutes an acceptable partnership to be married by the Church. The answers then, as now, were not so clear cut.

Jane Watkins. Country Life.

 

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Try as she may, Patricia Routledge?s character Hyacinth Bouquet, never does become regal. But when playing the Queen?s grandmother, Queen Mary, in Royce Ryton?s play, ?Crown Matrimonial?, Routledge succeeds brilliantly

The scandal of the abdication of King Edward VIII in 1936 almost brought the monarchy to an end and the events leading up to it were listened to eagerly in wireless sets around the land.

This play is made up of a series of confrontations between King Edward VIII (Rufus Wright), known as David to his family, and his mother, Queen Mary.

It is possible that Mrs Simpson lured David into her arms because of the lack of affection shown by his mother. Patricia Routledge conveys this aloofness well. She doesn?t offer a glimmer of understanding to her love-stricken son and her emphasis is always on ?duty?.

The character of the soon-to become George VI is put over well by Richard Hansell whose stammering becomes even worse as he faces the possibility of taking his brother?s place. The scene where he confesses to his mother that he?d rather face a firing squad than become King and breaks down in sobs, is one of the most moving.

His mother attempts to stiffen his resolve, again, without affection, although she does, briefly, touch his shoulder. One wonders whether this attitude was the cause of her second son?s stammer.

In a passionate performance by Emma Handy, Elizabeth, Duchess of York, defends her husband?s position and tells David exactly what she thinks of him. Queen Mary was, herself, a product of the British establishment, an establishment that could not and would not tolerate the sovereign?s marriage to a twice-divorced American.

I did think that Patricia Routledge?s rounded figure was a big contrast to the real Queen Mary?s straight backed and straight laced stance but it was character that mattered rather than looks.

In some ways, this play is a documentary chronicling historic events as they happen. Royce Ryton does not exaggerate the situation but doesn?t under play it either. Yet the zing was missing which resulted in the slow pace and samey upper class accents being a little dull. I think the zing was Wallis Simpson.

Had the colourful socialite American made an appearance in just one scene with her beloved, she would have contrasted well with the Royals and things might have livened up. The words that ring out through history were made in the abdication speech. The audience hear once again the original broadcast in which Edward VIII said: ?I have found it impossible to discharge my duties as King without the support of the woman I love.?

In 1945 he briefly returns home to a less than rapturous reception. The icy Queen Mary?s only sign of melting is when, referring to his wife, she says ?Send her my kind wishes.?
Julia Taylor. Entertainment Manchester