An Audience With the Duke of Windsor - Bob Kingdom

Bob Kingdom is an Edinburgh institution. He’s been appearing on the Fringe since Methuselah was a lad and his Dylan Thomas show is the Fringe equivalent of The Mousetrap; his facility for impersonation is uncanny. An Audience With The Duke of Windsor opens with the recording of Edward VIII’s 1936 abdication broadcast: querulous, whining, and sounding surprisingly old (he was 42 at the time). So when Kingdom comes on as the character immediately after, there is no doubting the technical excellence of his performance.

However, the script is a complete mess. Drawing heavily on Duke of Windsor’s autobiography, A King’s Story, this is a self-serving and self-justifying portrait that refuses to delve into the murkier areas of his life, particularly his pro-Nazi sympathies. Edward was the Princess Diana of his day; a man with a populist image who adored American culture and, as he saw it, was a royal moderniser. Like Diana, he had some potent psychological issues, notably an abused and lonely childhood. But, sublimely ineffectual, pompous, and trivial, his most notable achievements were probably to make turn-ups and zip-flies on trousers fashionable.

The chronology is confused. It takes a long time to establish that we are watching a man in the throes of writing notes for his ghosted autobiography, probably the only real work he did in his life. This appeared in 1951, so we are presumably in around 1949-50. However, the script contains references to the death of his brother from lung cancer (1952) and the musical Gypsy (1959), and finally we see him as a ghost after his death, pleading his case before the audience as jury. There is no coherence to the transitions and it is never clear what he is being tried for or what is at stake.

The relationship with Wallace Simpson is at the core of play. It is quite clear from the show that she was a cold bitch on the make, obsessed with status, shopping, clubbing, and screwing around. What is never explained convincingly is why anyone should be as dotty about her as Edward was. Maybe he didn’t know himself. All he can say is that she was so stylish, hardly the basis for a great romance. So what should be emotional and touching comes across as merely stupid.

This performance doesn’t work as a simple piece of storytelling,or as a play. There is no development, no conflict, and no resolution. Instead the script is littered with endless references to Lords, Ladies, country houses, and night clubs till the head is reeling from ill-digested research and trivia. At 75 minutes this show is at least 25 minutes too long, and the audience were getting restive by the hour mark.

Edward is a marginal, talentless figure with an inflated sense of his own importance and tragedy. For ardent monarchists and lovers of gossip this show may have some interest. Genuine play-goers should give it a miss.

Reviews by Peter Scott-Presland

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The Blurb

Who was the real Edward, Duke of Windsor and who 'chaperoned' Wallis in New York? Bob Kingdom's explosive and revealing new play explores one man's choice between love and money.

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