Q&A | A fascinating talk about The Duchess with director Sarah Rodgers

It’s been a long time coming for Ruby Slippers Theatre, but after first workshopping it in 2009, The Duchess a.k.a. Wallis Simpson finally makes its west coast professional premiere tonight at The Cultch!

With all the time and effort that has gone into creating this excellent piece of work, we wanted to share what’s in store for everyone. We took a chance to talk with Director Sarah Rodgers and got her thoughts on about this exciting production and fascinating woman!

Wallis Simpson was certainly a controversial figure when you look at some of the stories about her. What is your opinion of her?

I grew up in a British family with a real Royalist for a mother so it was ingrained in me that Wallis Simpson had ruined the Royal Family and had taken away the most beautiful matinee idol Prince England ever had – my mother remembers listening to the abdication speech with her family and crying and crying. It wasn’t until years later when I started to read up about Wallis that I grew to truly admire her for her moxy and ambition and wit. I think she was a very charming and intelligent and strong woman and contrary to what is thought she didn’t encourage or want the King to abdicate. She is a fascinating, formidable woman and has intrigued generations of people.

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Wallis was a woman who was incredibly confident and who was in many ways, the most visible woman in the world, and certainly one of the most influential. So how important was it to get the casting right?

I worked very hard to get all the casting pitch perfect. Whenever I am dealing with people from history vs. fictional characters, I work very diligently to find an actor who really can embody the person – spirit and speech and physicality. I am thrilled with the entire cast – everyone is pitch perfect – and we have had some great fun bringing in age and ethnicity and yet somehow everyone is absolutely bang on. We have an Asian Nazi and an Iranian Bertie and one of the eldest members of the cast playing a young Princess Elizabeth (Queen Mum) and yet when you see it – you will not be able to imagine anyone else in the roles – they are all perfection.

What kind of balance is there between fact and theatre in this piece?

The writing of this piece is filled with style and wit and magic realism. It is not in any way like so many of the British mini-series that have filled masterpiece theatre Sunday nights for years. Linda Griffiths has a terrific imagination and great style – she brings a highly stylized vision to the play – the characters are arched and bigger than life and yet she actually brings a great deal of fact and historical tidbits into the piece. Anyone who knows the true anecdotes of this love story and the real history will really enjoy the little in jokes and facts sprinkled throughout the play amongst the crazy humour and sexy fun.

What do you hope audiences will take away from The Duchess?

I hope that the audiences will enjoy the theatrical feast we are offering them: all the great music and dancing I have incorporated into the play but ultimately I really do hope that people will like Wallis and walk away with sympathy and understanding of this complicated and wonderful female figure.

Are you excited the show is playing at The Cultch?

I am thrilled to be bringing this piece to The Cultch – I could not think of a more apt venue to create this world in: a world that offers Art Deco and a time of great indulgence and jazz and champagne. This lovely older venue with its balcony and gorgeous hardwood floors and intimate setting is the perfect venue – fit for a Duke and Duchess!

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The Duchess a.k.a. Wallis Simpson runs until April 18 at the Historic Theatre. Tickets start from $19 and are available on our website or by calling the box office at 604-251-1363.

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