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The Umbrella Organisation

The Umbrella Organisation

May the power of the brolly live on!

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The Last of the Duchess, Hampstead Theatre
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rakspatel wrote in mycroft_brolly
Once upon a time there was a woman who was loved so much by a King that he gave up his throne for her ... but then he died, and she was suddenly very old.

I saw this on Wednesday, and had no intention of posting about it. However, having seen it, I feel I really must!

I went along to this with no expectations about it at all. I had booked to see it because it was written by Nicholas Wright (although based on a book by Caroline Blackwood) and directed by Richard Eyre. So the creative team credentials were the best there could possibly be. But I did not think I would be that gripped by the play's story. Anyway, I arrived and this play (the content) and the acting blew me away. I just love it when that happens! When you turn up with zero expectations and then are just completely blown away.

Firstly, I had paid zero attention to the cast - as I said, I had booked to see it purely because of its creative team (writer and director). So I almost fell off my chair when who should stride purposefully onto the stage, but John Heffernan who, of course, played Peter in Emperor and Galilean. I have only seen John in Emperor and Galilean and in this. In both, he plays characters who are extremely, almost blindly, loyal to their masters, and who will protect and defend them to the hilt. In both plays, he also plays characters with principles and who have integrity. I love both these qualities in people generally and, especially, in a man! I love to see these types of characters on stage, and I love to see how they deal with, and react to, adversity, and when their master comes under threat. I found John's loyalty to his masters in both plays touching and moving and he is 100% believable in both roles.

Photo credit: http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/page/3031/The+Last+of+the+Duchess/286

Secondly, I think it is no great secret that my favourite actors are all men, and that I instinctively prefer plays about men. A good example is my obsession with Emperor and Galilean - the play is dominated by men and, of the cast of 50, I think only 5 or 6 were women. The Last of the Duchess is the opposite - ALL the main characters are women. So I was surprised that I connected with the women and their stories, and that I loved the play.

The main reason for this is that this play shows women in positions of power and influence - Sheila Hancock plays Suzanne Blum who is the lawyer in total control of the Duchess of Windsor's life, affairs, estate and possessions and Anna Chancellor plays Caroline Blackwood, the main protagonist, who is a journalist writing a profile/feature on the Duchess and then on Suzanne Blum. Both Sheila Hancock and Anna Chancellor are outstanding in this.

Sheila Hancock as Suzanne Blum and Anna Chancellor as Caroline Blackwood

Photo credit: http://www.attitude.co.uk/viewers/viewcontent.aspx?contentid=2052&catid=culture&subcatid=performance&longtitle=REVIEW%3A+THE+LAST+OF+THE+DUCHESS

The women, and their lives, are complex - they are like the women that I know and love. They are multi-faceted and multi-layered. They are not stereotypes. They are also intelligent, able, talented, bloody minded, dominant, self-obsessed, articulate and headstrong. These are women whom I would like as friends. Women I would like to get to know, and who I would like to spend time with. They were all strong independent women - I loved that!

There was one scene I loved in particular - the drunk scene. It is when Angela Thorne, Lady Mosley, and Anna Chancellor, Caroline Blackwood, are both tipsy and talking about their husbands and what is happening between them at that point in time. Neither is listening to what the other is saying, they are both entirely caught up in their own emotions and feelings, and the story that they are relating to the other re their husbands. Both the stories they were telling were heart-rending - one involving an actual death and the other a living death (Alzheimer's). I was deeply touched and strongly moved.

To summarise, I am highly recommending this play to everyone.

Unfortunately, this play closes this Saturday (26 November) and is sold out until the end of the run, but you can get tickets by queuing up on the day for returns.

Follow the link for the full details on the play and the production:

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Is the story entirely fictional, or supposed to be based on a real life story? Wonderfully strong female cast whatever, and what fun to see 'Peter' again unexpectedly. :-)

It is true. All the characters are real people. Caroline Blackwood was a real person who wrote a real book.

The book is here:

Synopsis cut and pasted from the Amazon website:
This is an investigation into the last years of the Duchess of Windsor. Once the epitome of glamour, Wallis Warfield Simpson Windsor spent her last days alone and ill in her Paris chateau, guarded by her lawyer Maitre Suzanne Blum. This book tells of the author's quest for the Duchess and her encounters with Blum. Blackwood came to the shuttered house in the Bois de Boulogne in 1980, commisioned by the "Sunday Times" to write a piece to accompany a photo-session with the Duchess by Lord Snowdon. But the photographs were never taken. Instead, Maitre Blum became the subject of both photographs and interview and her passion for the Duchess aroused Blackwood's curiosity. Why was the Duchess's lawyer so keen to prevent anyone from seeing her, even her oldest friends? What was it about the Duchess that evoked such depth of feeling in her lawyer? In answering these questions, this book takes the reader behind the facade of the Windsor myth to give an account of the life - and death - of the Duchess.

When I first read the description naturally I thought immediately of Wallis Simpson, but since she wasn't named I then began to doubt it! Thank you for the link to the book. :-)

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