Review: Newport Playgoers Society – Queens, Dolman Theatre, Newport

Andy Howells reviews Queens, a double-bill of one act plays performed by Newport Playgoers Society featuring The Regina Monologues by Jenny Wafer and Rebecca Russell and Untucked by Teresa Hennessy.

Newport Playgoers Society’s first production for 2023 is a pairing of two one-act plays that sit under the umbrella title of Queens.

Queens, of course, is open to interpretation. Both productions feature strong protagonists worthy of metaphorical crowns who find strength pushing against adversity and discrimination of varying degrees.

Jenny Wafer and Rebecca Russell’s The Regina Monologues kicks off the double bill transporting the six wives of Henry VIII into the 21st Century. Each of the wives’ personalities no longer hiding between the lines of the history books, but alive in modern day society.

Catherine Roberts (Cathy – Catherine of Aragon), Emma Trott (Annie – Anne Boleyn) Catherine Morgan (Jane (Seymour)), Nathan Hodge (Anna – Anne of Cleves) Holly Dawe (Katherine Howard) and Emma Philips (Katherine (Parr)) deliver their monologues separately but intertwined with each other in a fragmented time.

The women are very real, revealing different tales of adoration and abhorrence of their omnipresent suitor, a suave 21st century businessman that evolves over the course of the story into a lecherous monster (of whom we cleverly never see, except for a portrait on the wall).

Linda Cleak’s direction beautifully sees the six wives’ step across each other’s timeline with barely a pause, as they share their individual courtships, pregnancies, conspiracies, and tragedies with the audience.

While some of the monologues make us smile, there are others which genuinely move us. Emma Trott and Holly Dawe particularly delivering the plays most emotive moments, as they are trapped in controlling and abusive relationships. That aside, even in their weakest moments the six wives show strength in adversity, a quality befitting any true queen.

There are Queen’s of a different category in the second one-act play, Untucked by Welsh writer Teresa Hennessy.

Set in a dressing room during the interval of a drag show , this two-hander documents the meeting of seasoned drag act, the Shakespeare reciting  Irma Geddon  (Paul Cotton-Gerrish) and newcomer Dee Light (Matthew Hitchman), a straight married man who is preparing to make his drag-act debut.

Over the next 45 minutes the pair share their life experiences, anecdotes, hopes, doubts and give a beautifully human view into the inside world of the drag artist. Hennesey’s dialogue is strong and revealing as we discover that behind Irma’s colourful exterior is a person hiding their loneliness while Dee’s gentle personality camouflage’s someone who is prepared to fight against adversity for all he believes in.

Alison Gerrard’s direction allows the characters to make full use of the stage, despite the apparent limitations of the dressing room and this allows both Gerrish and Hitchman to give colourful, comedic, and animated performances to great effect. The dialogue is beautifully written as well as performed, and is a big plus, particularly as the writer hasn’t taken the all too easy option of dropping in strong language, thus, making this play accessible for younger audiences too.

Both Untucked and The Regina Monologues are enthralling, entertaining and thought-provoking as well as worthy additions to the Newport Playgoers portfolio and definitely worth a few hours of your time. Queens runs at The Dolman Theatre, Newport until February 11.

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