The Duchess:
a.k.a. Wallis Simpson

20 September - 6 October , 2012

By Linda Griffiths

Director Sarah Rodgers
Telus Studio Theatre
Theatre at UBC

On the Subject

An extravagant and inspired epic, The Duchess takes us into a wonderland where Kings and Queens dance the Black Bottom, Faerie creatures demand blood, and Empires are given up for love. The play tells the story of the woman for whom Edward Vlll abdicated his throne, Wallis Simpson. It travels into the emotional centre of a plain, brash, sexual woman, who collapsed only when the cocktails ran out - a woman destined to become the Yoko Ono of her time. Irreverent and ribald, this mostly true drama combines straightforward narrative with magic realism.

You have no idea how hard it is
to live out a great romance!” 
- Wallis Simpson

Theatre at UBC presents a Vancouver premiere: Alumna Sarah Rodgers directs this irreverent and ribald tale of the American divorcee for whom Edward Vlll abdicated his throne.

Wallis Simpson was a plain, brash, sexual woman, who collapsed only when the cocktails ran out - a woman destined to become the Yoko Ono of her time. Through a combination of naturalism and theatrical magic, Canadian playwright Linda Griffiths’ work illuminates a part of history that, despite its widespread coverage in the world press, remains shrouded in mystery.

Audiences and critics alike are raving about Theatre at UBC's production of The Duchess: a.k.a. Wallis Simpson!

The Duchess ­ made for a truly memorable evening!
Linda Griffith's play was such a great choice to open the season; your alumni Sarah Rogers did an amazing job directing the play; the set, lighting and costumes were fantastic; and your BFA acting students absolutely excelled in their roles! Please accept and kindly pass on to your colleagues and students my warmest congratulations and thanks for a most enjoyable evening!  PS. I have already made plans for my family to see the play as well later this month!
- Audience member

"I attended "The Duchess" last Friday night -- it's an incredibly powerful show. I was in Vancouver for a business meeting & decided to spend my last evening attending live theater. Out of everything available in Vancouver, I picked your show and I'm glad I did. As an American, I had heard of Wallace Simpson, but I didn't know much beyond the basic facts. Your show brought these people to life in a way that I don't think anything else could. Anyway, thanks for the show! I hope you have much success with the remainder of the run.
- Audience Member

What an incredibly awesome production and dynamic performances!!!!  "The Duchess" is a winner, and all involved should pat themselves on their backs and enjoy the run. Where was Alexander Keurvorst found???!!!!!  In his short bio, it doesn't clearly indicate that he's a Theatre student. Judging his performance as Noel Coward and important musician, I don't think he needs much more training! Where can I get his new CD???!!! Great start to the F. Wood/ Theatre year!!!!  We look forward to the season! Congratulations to all!!!
- Audience member

And reviewers weigh in too!

... long before the naked photos of a Royal's wild Vegas weekend made headlines, one woman was able to topple a king.  In a dazzling performance, Pippa Johnstone brings that woman to life in the Theatre at UBC season opener, The Duchess: aka Wallis Simpson."
Mark Robbins, Gay Vancouver

When the woman in question does finally appear,
her strength and energy exceeds expectations. Johnstone is superbly cast as Wallis, navigating the complexities of the character with all the frankness and vulnerability required".

A bewitching mix of androgynous sensuality
and unstable vulnerability, she fascinates at nearly every turn, breathing a delicious fire that catches and ignites all the supporting players."
-  Jeremy Avery, The Ubyssey

Under Sarah Rodgers' direction
this is one of the more stylish, well-directed and well-performed pieces of theatre seen on a UBC stage. And it exposes audiences to marvelous Pippa Johnstone (as Wallis), in her final year of the BFA program; she's as relaxed and confident as someone who's been treading the boards for years. The real Mrs. Simpson would definitely have approved."
Jo Ledingham, The Vancouver Courier

The Duchess trades the battlefields of France
for the salons of London and dented plate mail for glittering gowns, but beneath these superficial differences are the same elements that make Shakespeare¹s histories so thrilling: towering figures struggling with conflict, duty, and passion, whose actions and decisions shaped the world in which we live"
Brian Paterson, Laura Murray PR

About the Playwright

Linda GriffithsLinda Griffiths has been widely praised for her theatrical daring, as both a writer and an actress, for over three decades. Her awards include five Dora Mavor Moore Awards, a Gemini, two Chalmers Awards and The Betty Mitchell “Best New Play” for Age of Arousal. Griffiths’ many notable works include the hugely successful Maggie & Pierre (written with Paul Thompson) and Alien Creature: A Visitation from Gwendolyn MacEwen. In 2011 she toured in her new solo show, The Last Dog of War, and upcoming is a full-length drama, Anatomy of a House Fire, a sequel to The Darling Family.

...(Linda Griffiths is) one of Canada’s originals,
known not only for the quality of her work, but for the sheer range of her career."
- Maclean's Magazine

Sarah Rodgers (MFA Directing, BFA Acting) is an award-winning actress and director. Recent directing credits include Billy Bishop Goes to War for Theatre at UBC - which toured to the Arts Club and Saskatoon’s Persephone Theatre; A Christmas Carol for Pacific Theatre; and St. Joan for Chemainus Theatre Festival. This summer Sarah directed The Music Man for Theatre Under the Stars, and A Room With A View for United Players. Next she directs Sisters for Gateway Theatre.

The Duchess: a.k.a. Wallis Simpson features ten final-year BFA Acting students, playing twenty-five characters: Georgia Beaty, Alen Dominguez, Joel Garner, Emma Johnson, Pippa Johnstone, Alexander Keurvorst, Kenton Klassen, Matt Reznek, Tracy Schut and Courtney Shields. The creative team includes recent BFA Design graduate Michael Bock (Set) with BFA Design students Alia Stephen (Lighting), Miriam Thom (Costumes) and Scott Zechner (Sound), as well as BFA Production student Yeon Kyeom (Jenny) Kim (Stage Management).

About the Director

Sarah RodgersIt has been a thrill to work on Linda Griffiths very original script exploring the life of Wallis Simpson.  As a young girl growing up in a British family I often heard my mother speak of 'that American woman who was desperate to be Queen'.  Certainly every BBC miniseries and film share the same stories and anecdotes and all have very similar treatments of this remarkable time in history.  It was with great excitement that I read a truly fresh take and style of writing on this familiar story.  Linda's script is raunchy, raw, funny and outrageous.  She takes us on a magical, irreverent ride delving into the world of this fascinating woman.  In keeping with the spirit of the stylized approach to the script I was very excited to learn that my young actor playing Noel Coward actually played the piano - an idea was born - using Coward's actual songs, as well as music from the era, to weave the story together.  I am thrilled to offer up a musical vision to this already colourful piece.  Sit back, have a martini and enjoy while we take you into or out of your twentieth century blues and perhaps on the way out you can wiggle your way to the car - black bottom style. 

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