It is tempting to assume that an American drama about black women caught in the cold, hard machinery of Britain’s monarchy is a direct response to Meghan’s revelations to Oprah Winfrey earlier this week.
But theatre cannot move quite this fast and even though Vivian JO Barnes’ two-hander was inspired by the duchesses of Sussex and Cambridge, she conceived it in 2018 and it was filmed by Steppenwolf theatre at the end of last year.
The marketing gods, however, could not have aligned the stars for a greater impact for the digital premiere of a play billed as “a darker version of what might have happened if Meghan Markle had stayed”. That line gestures towards the surreal, satirical and incrementally creepy tone of this 35-minute dualogue.
Staged as a teatime meeting between The Duchess (Sydney Charles) and The Soon-to-be-Duchess (Celeste M Cooper), and directed by Weyni Mengesha, the couple’s exchanges seem deliberately wooden and gather sinister undertones that climax in the grotesque act of the final moments. The Duchess is already grounded in the ways of the institution and performing royal duties and has recently given birth (“I’m leaking”). She is meeting the Soon-to-be-Duchess in order to educate her in palace protocols for women – and black women – entering into royalty.
The Duchess seems more automaton than human – a regal version of a Stepford wife, lobotomised by institutional protocols,…