The Regina Monologues – review by Harrini Ratnanesan

Despite being an amateur theatregoer (read: possessing a repertoire limited to having seen only two plays, three if you count Hamilton on Disney+), I had been fairly assured that I knew what would be waiting beyond the doors of 24 Carrot Productions’ The Regina Monologues. Queens from various historical periods, a stage, and a loose plot line that would allow the stories of these women to be told. Some long Shakespearean monologues intertwined perhaps. Instead, what greeted the guests stepping into the Meat Market Stables on opening night, was akin to a museum installation coming to life. 13 queens, some regally adorned in their historical costumes, others in contemporary outfits, roamed around the foyer as guests signed into the COVIDSafe app and waited to be seated. They were solemn, with no smiles or words for the patrons filing in, creating an atmosphere where the boundary of the past and present were almost tangible – a central theme of the night that was to unfold.

The first look into the innovative mind of writer/director Sharmini Kumar did not stop there however, as guests were handed a brochure that seemed to double as a treasure map. Flashbacks to piecing together a semester timetable on Allocate+ came back as we were directed to view the performance timetable and told to map out our night. Different sets of performances would occur in three separate rooms, and it was up to us how we moved around and which performances we sought to catch. The only time the audience would ever be together was in the opening introductory performance and concluding final performance.

And with that the show began.

Emily Scerri as Empress Elizabeth of Austria | Photographer: Brett Robson

The concept was deceptively simple – 13 queens, almost all delivering monologues to the audience, the only dialogue occurring in the first introductory performance between Eleanor of Aquitaine (Sonia Marcon) and her mother-in-law, Matilda of England (Madalyn McCandless). There were no set pieces, no stagecraft, only the queens and sometimes a lone chair. It was clear that Kumar wanted the focus to be on the women alone and the stories they told, their trials and tribulations, and the conversation they were attempting to have with the audience. This created atmospheres of open and raw earnestness, a deep connection to the audience that seemed to go longer than the allocated 15 minutes per monologue. What was particularly refreshing about these monologues also was that they weren’t aimed at being history lectures. The audience were not treated as an invisible and passive force, but rather as integral players of the story who pieced context together as the monologue progressed. The actors never ‘spoke’ into the far distance or addressed a non-existent figure – each line was delivered with direct eye contact and a multitude of questions thrown to the audience for contemplation. Furthermore, the creative choice to have some of the queens remain in a historical context and some in a contemporary context meant that the audience also assumed different roles – acting as members of 18th century Russian court with Catherine the Great and then as listeners of a popular podcast with Empress Himiko of Japan.

Uniquely the play did not limit itself to “real life” queens either. With the addition of The Virgin Mary (Delaram Ahmadi) and the Ancient Greek Goddess Persephone (Avril Good), Kumar provided a platform for the audience to consider not only the portrayal of women in power throughout history, but also in mythology. Kumar raised questions of how and why these women were and are still perceived in a particular light, and also looked into aspects of these women that are left unexplored, such as Mary’s teen pregnancy and struggle in an occupied land and Persephone’s psychological complications arising from being the Goddess of Spring but also Hades’ wife in the Underworld.

Jazba Singh as Princess Sophia Duleep Singh | Photographer: Brett Robson

The highlight of this play however lies in its intersectionality and willingness to go all the way when discussing topics such as colonialism, race and identity. For me, three standout performances were those that tackled these issues unabashedly and prompted reflections on whether our current wave of feminism was indeed doing enough to address these issues. Serious Meerkat’s Queen Njinga of Angola and Jazba Singh’s Princess Sophia Duleep Singh’s compelling and raw discussion of Portuguese and English colonialism respectively, as well as the impact it had on self identity, were particularly impactful and powerful insights into a corner of history that has only recently begun to be properly discussed. Similarly, Empress Himiko’s (Seon Williams) scathing review on the 2018 film Tomb Raider and highlighting the cultural appropriation within the film speaks to a larger ongoing issue within society pertaining to the portrayal of women of colour in media and film. Though all 13 queens were fantastic in their performances, having been enthralled by the lesser-known stories of these three queens I do believe that perhaps swapping out the more well-known Western queens such as Mary Queen of Scots and Isabella I of Castille, might have allowed for the untold stories of some of history’s forgotten queens to utilise this platform instead.

Appealing to arts, history, and politics lovers alike, The Regina Monologues is an incredibly immersive and innovative theatre experience. The only slight challenge this format presented was the fact that the audience would not be able to catch every single performance no matter how they tried to organise their time, but despite this the excellent writing and acting of the actors ensured that each theatregoer was able to create their own unique experience out of the night.

24 Carrot Production’s The Regina Monologues ran from 1 – 3 July 2021 at The Meat Market Stables in Melbourne.

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