Review: Marie Antoinette
Y2k aesthetics meet a period drama, accompanied by a fictional talking sheep
A modern take on the life of the young 18th century Queen, this production is filled with colourful costumes, moments of poignancy, and sheep with French accents.
The play follows the life of Marie Antoinette throughout the French Revolution, and her futile attempts to grapple with the great social change. Raised to be Queen, she battles throughout the play with understanding the Revolution, and reconciling this with her personal needs and family. We are shown a Marie who feels helpless, having been sent to France at the age of 14, though also one who cannot understand the concept of democracy. Though the message we were meant to take away from this portrayal of Marie was confused, we got the sense that Marie too was confused as to her circumstances and her role in the events leading up to the Revolution.
Victoria Ubenyi’s portrayal of the young Queen had me flinching with the sound of blood-curdling screams, impatient with Marie’s ignorance, and made us sympathise with Marie’s plight to understand her circumstances. While some of these themes could have been explored more in the play, Victoria’s subtlety showed us a childish Marie, a mother, a helpless wife to a weak King, and the hint of a strong woman who never had the chance to flourish. We are not meant to fully sympathise with Marie Antoinette, though Victoria shows us multiple aspects to an oft-used historical figure.
While the positioning of the actors on the stage could have been tweaked to better serve the shape of the Corpus Playroom, a relatively empty set was a great tool in later scenes, emphasising the claustrophobia and emptiness of Marie’s prison.
Louis XVI’s indecision and weakness were artfully demonstrated by Rosalind Wippell’s performance. A well-developed character, her Louis has a palpable sense of childlike indecision, someone who cannot and was never meant to rule France. While not enough blame is put on the King for the inequality and injustice of his royal rule, Rosalind’s performance creates a helpless Louis, unable to make the right decisions to help the country or save his family. Her sense of resignation to her fate was poignant and contrasting with Marie’s lack of understanding. They are a royal couple of complete opposites, where only one understands what is going on, but it is only the other who can make any decisions (albeit often the wrong ones).
Katya Stylianou’s brilliant performance as the sheep (with a fantastic French accent) brought comedy and drove forward the plot. Elevated by a brilliant coat, her humour and comedic timing were excellently combined with a sense of poignancy, as she existed as a manifestation of Marie’s fears and growing awareness of the political situation. Being the first to introduce her to the public animosity (much like a looming twitter hashtag nowadays), Katya’s sheep tries to help Marie to understand the key messages of the Revolution in a rather futile effort, and helps to centre the play.
Using an interesting mix of 90s and 00s music between scenes, the music at times felt disjointed or sudden, though Talulah Thomas’ sound design added a poignancy and depth to Marie’s anguish in Act 2. The y2k aesthetic link led to fun costume and set design which brought colour and fun. Plastering the walls with old magazine and model photoshoots and covers presents Marie as the 18th century ‘it’ girl, having the same unattainable lifestyle that we’ve seen from Paris Hilton, Gigi Hadid and Hailey Bieber.
A key theme in the latter half was how Marie was unable to wake up and see the importance and meaning of the Revolution. While key themes sometimes felt muddled and undefined, the play interestingly explored the humanity of the ill-fated Queen, while creating considerable envy of the Sidge-girlie fits.
Marie Antoinette is showing in the Corpus Playroom at 7pm from 31st January – 4th February. Book your tickets here.
Feature image credits: Alessia Mavakala