Play Review – The Chamber of Beheaded Queens (2016) by K T Parker, dir. Kate O’Leary

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The Chamber of Beheaded Queens PosterThe Chamber of Beheaded Queens is a distinctly feminised historical fantasy. It depicts an afterlife where Anne Boleyn, Mary Stuart, Catherine Howard and Marie-Antoinette share their experiences of the cruel men who beheaded them. The chamber is an heavenly sanctuary that is part of a honeycombed network of similar spaces. They are linked by labyrinthine corridors that allow the dead to develop their personalities as though alive. Catherine Howard, played youthfully by Maisie Young, states she was still childlike when beheaded. Thus, she uses the corridors to mature.

The performance begins with an embroidering Anne Boleyn (played by Christine Corser with a subtle fragility) sat opposite a staunch Mary Stuart (played with a wonderful pertness by Ashleigh Barton). Birdsong begins to play. It transpires that Anne has remained silent for a hundred years, a suggestion of how long it has taken her to heal. Then an interesting conflict emerges through the only luxury the queens are allowed – tokens. Anne is annoyed with Mary for wasting a token on birdsong, so she takes refuge in her sowing. A feminine pastime implying it provided Anne refuge from patriarchal constraints when alive. Furthermore, the birdsong reminds Anne of being imprisoned in a stone cell, as she heard the chirping outside. The implication is that being married to a king is itself a prison sentence.
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Truly Exotic – A One Act Play

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TRULY EXOTIC OFFICIAL POSTER

Truly Exotic is an original one act play written by me, Frank I. Swannack. The play is mainly set in the Elizabethan period, but features anachronistic conceits. It challenges preconceived notions of what it means to be civilised when confronted with difference. The following synopsis describes Truly Exotic in more detail:

Set in the twenty-first and sixteenth-century London, Truly Exotic blurs the differences between the civilised English and foreign savage. It begins with a merchant masquerade, a physician of time and space, who has a business plan connecting two different time periods. He transports a twenty-first century prostitute to the sixteenth-century as a wench for her ability to please men from all cultures. For, in the sixteenth-century, a courtier has unsuccessfully led an English army against the Irish rebels. He has returned from Ireland too early and now needs to placate Queen Elizabeth I. In a London tavern, the courtier learns from the wench about a lost map charting an island rich in gold. It is a prize he knows would please the queen and even make him king. With the intention of attending business matters at the River Thames, the courtier meets the merchant masquerade selling exotica from the New World. After the merchant has advertised his wares, the two men exchange tales of exploits in foreign lands. From the merchant, the courtier learns about Anthroposia: a mysterious island bountiful in gold that bears a striking similarity to the wench’s lost map. He realises the merchant holds the key to truly pleasing the queen, but can the courtier afford the price?

Truly Exotic is being performed at the 2016 Page to Stage Liverpool Festival, more details and ticket purchases are from this link. Book now to avoid disappointment.

Furthermore, the festival is hosting a double bill with another play influenced by the early modern period, The Chamber of Beheaded Queens (click on title for more details). Tickets available from Eventbrite.

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Truly Exotic has its own Facebook Page. Check out the play’s official trailer here.

The Petrarchan Sonnet and Sharon Kenny’s ‘Hotel Heart’ (2011)

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Writing in 14th Century Italy, Francesco Petrarca’s or Petrarch’s sonnets not only influenced 16th Century English sonnet sequences but endure today in unlikely places. Featured on the American TV reality show ‘Dance Moms’, Sharon Kenny’s song ‘Hotel Heart’ (2011) is influenced by the Petrarchan blazon to stunning effect. The song also bears a striking similarity to Petrarch’s Sonnet CXXIV from Rime Sparse, which I will examine first before returning to ‘Hotel Heart’:

HE RECALLS HER AS HE SAW HER WHEN IN TEARS.

That ever-honour’d, yet too bitter day,

Her image hath so graven in my breast,

That only memory can return it dress’d

In living charms, no genius could portray:

Her air such graceful sadness did display,

Her plaintive, soft laments my ear so bless’d,

I ask’d if mortal, or a heavenly guest,

Did thus the threatening clouds in smiles array.

Her locks were gold, her cheeks were breathing snow,

Her brows with ebon arch’d–bright stars her eyes,

Wherein Love nestled, thence his dart to aim:

Her teeth were pearls–the rose’s softest glow

Dwelt on that mouth, whence woke to speech grief’s sighs

Her tears were crystal–and her breath was flame.

Like many of his sonnets, Sonnet CXXIV describes Petrarch’s unrequited love for Laura (the daughter of a Provençal nobleman). The sonnet begins mournfully with Petrarch’s recollection of Laura’s sadness on one particular day. The octave (first eight lines of the sonnet) is oxymoronic in that her ‘graceful sadness’ turns ‘the threatening clouds in smiles array’. In other words, even in sadness Laura’s beauty brightens the surrounding landscape.

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