Royce Ryton’s historical drama is a static, stuffed sofa of a play. Set in the regal cosiness of Queen Mary’s residence at Marlborough House, it imagines how the abdication crisis of 1936 might have played out as a family drama.
As Edward – or David as he was always known within the Royal Family – digs in his heels over his relationship with American divorcee Wallis Simpson, his mother watches in bewilderment as the monarchy is dragged to the edge of constitutional disaster.
This focus on the family means that key players like Stanley Baldwin or Mrs Simpson herself never appear on stage.
It’s one of those plays in which people tell each other a lot of things you might imagine they knew already in the interest of filling in the audience’s background. Crown Matrimonial was first produced in 1972, which means it is exactly equidistant between the events it describes and the present day, so you can make your own connections with the subsequent history of Charles and Di, Andy and Fergie and Charles and Camilla. And what would Queen Mary have made of It’s a Royal Knockout?
From today’s perspective, Ryton seems rather kind to Edward, presenting him as a well-meaning moderniser in love with all things American – Mrs Simpson, cocktails and dancing the rhumba.
If only he hadn’t been forced out we might have got MacDonalds and Starbucks a lot sooner.
Although the play ends with a brief scene indicating that he and his wife would be frozen out of postwar Britain contrary to their expectations, there is no reference to what is widely assumed to have been a contributory factor – the couple’s pro-Nazi sympathies.
In fact, there is a line which suggests that Edward was a supporter of Churchill in 1936, whereas in fact he supported appeasement.
A widely circulated defeatist interview he gave after the fall of France prompted Churchill to despatch him to the governership of the Bahamas where he was unlikely to cause any harm to the war effort.
Although I could never quite forget that she bears no physical resemblance to Queen Mary, Patricia Routledge delivers sufficiently queenly gravitas to make the thing tick over.
But the best performance, and the only one which briefly raises the temperature of human drama comes from Richard Hansell as the stressed and tongue-tied younger brother Bertie, appalled at the unexpected prospect of being thrust into the limelight as the future George VI.