Review: A Room for One at the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
PUBLISHED: 09:52 16 March 2016 | UPDATED: 09:52 16 March 2016
Remember the night, back in 1981, when the Queen got stuck in snow on the A46? Katie Jarvis does; Her Majesty almost certainly does; and Ed Viney has written a play about it
My grandmother – don’t ask me why – was always known as The Queen throughout the family. She bore not even a passing resemblance, so I’m assuming this to have been an affectionately indulgent title. Once, when I was a child, Queen Elizabeth II did indeed visit my home town of Marple in Cheshire, and huge, doting crowds assembled, excitedly waiting to catch a glimpse. My mother and I were there - a myriad people milling around us - trying to spot the rest of the family from whom we’d been separated.
Suddenly catching sight of my grandmother, my mother enthusiastically called to me, “There’s The Queen!” As one, everybody turned to look in the direction of her pointing finger, only to find themselves staring at an elderly lady in a (very nice) M&S dress. My mum was ever after, to her deep shame, unfairly branded as a hoaxer.
Yet my mum’s enthusiasm for HM remained undimmed. So much so that I can vividly recall her excitement, in 1981, when the real Queen made one of only two unscheduled stops in her long career of official appointments. She’d been delivering Christmas presents to her daughter, the Princess Royal, at Gatcombe when – on her way back home – her Range Rover got stuck on A46, on the outskirts of Old Sodbury, just down the road from where we lived.
You can imagine the shock felt by the manager of the Cross Hands Hotel (in fact, you can see it for yourself in archive BBC footage) when someone trucked up explaining he needed to find rooms for HM, two chauffeurs, two private detectives, a member of the Palace staff and a Lady in Waiting. In the footage, the manager claims he said, “Oh my god”, though one imagines he’d at least been toying with stronger responses.
I’m setting the background, here, for Ed Viney’s play A Room for One, which takes a wry look at this unexpected local stopover. There’s limited mileage (both in a blizzard and) in a vastly surprised hotel manager and a Queen you can’t easily portray on stage without going into Jeanette Charles territory (my grandmother not being available). So Ed sensibly concentrates on other aspects: namely, imagined conversations within the walls of this very unroyal establishment.
Of course, there’s the panic of showing Her Majesty up to a room with a view of a car park (“It’s not exactly the view one would hope for in the Cotswolds”); the recriminations (“You should have checked the weather forecast!”); and the fact that wearing a headscarf while walking through a public bar probably won’t guarantee anonymity for the Queen (“Her Majesty goes everywhere in a headscarf!”). The private detective whom we meet is naturally beside himself with concern that this situation is putting the Queen in the most vulnerable position, though as is pointed out to him, “If you had a grievance against Her Majesty, it’s unlikely one would visit the Cross Hands, waiting for her to pop in.”
In fact, this play soon becomes something other than a vignette about a misread weather forecast. Instead, it revolves around the interplay between the characters we meet – Lady in Waiting, Lady Callington (Samantha Barron); chauffeur Mr Stephens (Alex Gartshore) and Detective Stonehouse (Chris Yapp). Lady Callington, manipulative, haughty, yet insecure, is horrified: there are two women on England’s throne and one of them – Mrs Thatcher – has got rid of all the government ministers that “we” can trust, she tells Mr Stephens. As chauffeur, he has the Queen’s ear – he should persuade Her Majesty to do something. Only the Queen has the power to stop Mrs Thatcher.
It’s an odd little play, really – but not an unattractive one, once one has suspended one’s disbelief. Some of the jokes are good, such as the game of Scrabble in which Lady C and Mr S while away the blizzard hours.
“What can you do with a C and two Ds?”
“That might be what Prince Edward thought when he got his A level results.”
And so the play dallies with far more than just snowdrifts; it’s a class war; an intelligence war; a politics war; a republican war. Pretty ambitious, it’s fair to say; a microcosm of national rifts played out in a small room on the outskirts of Old Sodbury.
Does it work? At times, yes; at other times, it’s pretty wordy. But it certainly has its moments, well supported by a hard-working cast. When it’s flowing, it feels as if the snow that’s falling is a pathetic fallacy; nature conspiring to reflect a bigger storm that’s engulfing a disappearing world. A humorous, clever, repartee-driven exploration of big themes.
On the occasions when it doesn’t work, it feels as if we’re trapped in a room alongside them.
For more information, visit www.bluebrookproductions.co.uk
Everyman Theatre, 7-10 Regent St, Cheltenham GL50 1HQ, 01242 572573; www.everymantheatre.org.uk