She Wolf @ Queen Room at Lady Beaufort
Friday, February 8, 2019
The original Cersei Lannister (sans twincest) is back, having crawled her way up from hell to set the record straight. The woman whose lust for power supposedly sparked the Wars of the Roses, Queen Margaret, tells her side of the story in a comic and brutal take down of the Bard in She Wolf.
It seriously says something for the strength of Gillian English’s performance that clad in a Royal Shakespearean hand-me-down, and alone in a performance space the size of a lounge room, she can deliver one of the most riveting and cutting performances of Fringe. As Margaret of Anjou speaks to the audiences she addresses the shit that Shakespeare put into her mouth (“Scat’s not my kink”), comparing it to the actual historical events. Through her appearances in four of Shakespeare’s historical plays (Henry VI part 1-3, Richard III… she was actually dead by the time of the last), Margaret is painted as everything from wanton adolescent, to bitter harridan, to the ever popular bloodthirsty bitch. English smashes the patriarchy in its soft dangly bits as she re-examines the “hows and whys” of a strong woman being vilified by history.
It’s a performance that demands attention. From her tween youtube celebrity take on Margaret’s speech in Henry VI part 1 (where somehow a teen girl from an enemy country flirts her way into being the Queen of England, without any of the usual diplomatic wrangling associated these negotiations) English is scathingly funny. As Margaret she is blunt and cutting in her assessment of her cucumber-like husband, and the various claimants to his throne as they destabilise the political climate… and blame her for it. It’s a depressingly familiar story of established forces controlling the narrative, and one that English draws right up to the present. After all, in his bid to please his royal patrons, Shakespeare did produce a fair bit of the “fake news” of his day.
Whether you love Shakespeare, or hate Shakespeare, or just wonder who that beardy git in the ruff is, She Wolf is intelligent and vastly entertaining theatre that dissects his work with a modern slant. The intimate environment of the Lady Beaufort is a curiously perfect place for the dead to rise up and address their wrongs, and English is certainly the right medium for the task.