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Camden Fringe: War of the Waleses, Tristan Bates Theatre

Part of the Camden Fringe 2013

Sarah Heenan, Alan Maddrell and Andy Marchant
Directed by Sarah Heenan
Pros: A sharp and clever script, a versatile cast who are able to bring the familiar faces from 90’s Britain to life, insightful commentary on the role of the media in British politics.
Cons: None. Perhaps not quite incredible enough for the rare fifth star.
Our Verdict: A time capsule of 90’s Britain which, as well being highly entertaining, also delivers a scathing and relevant satire.
Courtesy of War of the Waleses
The original audiences of Shakespeare’s histories had an advantage that today’s audiences do not: they already knew the story. For them it was a delight to watch actors embody well-known figures and recreate much-discussed scandals. In War of the Waleses, we get to experience what it was like for Shakespeare’s first audiences, because the story is one we all know: the divorce of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
War of the Waleses is a whirlwind of major events from 1990’s politics, presented with a mixture of Shakespeare-inspired verse, real interview transcripts, political satire and pop songs. This may sound like a strange mix, but honestly, it works. The story of the royal divorce, set against the backdrop of the fall of John Major and rise of new Labour under Tony Blair, is perfectly suited to the Shakespearian treatment. And the script is wonderfully witty and clever. Bard enthusiasts will enjoy seeing familiar tropes reimagined, such as the Shakespearian clown reinvented as ‘Pap’ the paparazzo (Matt Matravers).
The play’s real subject is not the relationship breakdown of Charles and Diana, but the role the British press played in their divorce. War of the Walseses contrasts journalists with integrity, with the gutter press, only interested in feeding the public’s appetite for scandal. The preference for style over substance is mirrored with the rise of Tony Blair. Despite the general tone of joviality, the play has a scathing message and takes a serious turn when we inevitably reach 1997 and Diana’s death.
Add to the super-smart script a versatile and energetic cast of seven. All the actors are wonderful at impersonating famous figures of 90’s Britain. Sarah Lowes looks nothing like the Queen and yet she captures her. Stephen Russell does a hysterical Prime Minister double act, first as a nerdy John Major and later utterly transformed into a suave and bouncy Tony Blair. Interestingly, against the grain of public opinion, not even Diana (Sarah Heenan) is spared of mockery. She is shown to court the media, coquettishly gazing at the audience/camera.
Following the recent birth of Prince George, the presses’ obsession with the Windsor family has again reached fever pitch, making War of the Walseses extremely relevant as well as entertaining.

Seen the show yourself? Agree or disagree? Submit your own review with our Camden Fringe Big Audience Project.

War of the Waleses has now finished its run at the Camden Fringe Festival but it will run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 12th to 24th August 2013. For more information visit .

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