Tuesday 31 August 2010 | By Chris Cooke
Robert Inston: Two queens for the price of one
Actor Robert Inston on playing not one but two queens at the Edinburgh Fringe.
CC: Tell us about the premise of ‘Two Bloody Queens’.
RI: Essentially it’s the story of Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart. Both were equal in status at birth, although there was a question over Elizabeth’s legitimacy. Mary knew her mother and had a pampered childhood; Elizabeth’s mother was kiilled by her father and her youth was uncertain and dangerous. The piece questions if these factors and their different temperaments influenced their destinies and thus world events.
CC: How does it work, do you play both characters?
RI: Yes, I play both queens, and my ‘fool’ “transforms” Elizabeth into Mary in the second half of the show
CC: How much research do you do? How much is fact and how much fiction?
RI: I did a lot of research, both in reading into both queens’ lives, and looking at the numerous theatrical incarnations of both characters. It’s mainly factual, or at least plausible supposition.
CC: What attracts you to playing former English and Scottish queens?
RI: I do rather like the past more than the present, in a romantic, gothic sort of way. These characters and their words leap out at you and “pull you in”.
CC: The show pits Elizabeth I against Mary Stuart – which do you prefer playing?
RI: It’s very difficult to say. At the moment it’s Mary. Elizabeth is just too bloody perfect!
CC: Do you think your Scottish audience are automatically more sympathetic to Mary, and English audience members to Elizabeth?
RI: A lot of Scottish people I’ve spoken to on my various “progresses” actually prefer Elizabeth. Certainly they point me out more to their children as her. “Look, there’s Queen Elizabeth!”
CC: Why do you think the story of Queens Elizabeth and Mary still resonates so strong today?
RI: When I first started to write and perform these characters it occurred to me that here was the story of Diane Princess of Wales and, of all people, Madonna! Opposites always emerge and resonate, be it in show business or politics.
CC: How has your Fringe been going?
RI: Very well, despite the usual hitches. No one has a costume as arresting as mine and if I had a pound for every photograph that had been taken! It’s knackering though. I need a maid!
CC: You’re performing theatre as part of the Free Festival, does that work well?
RI: I can’t really complain – I didn’t really research the venues enough, but audiences have been good. And I couldn’t afford to hire a performance space outside one of the free shows strands. People are still surprised that there is theatre in the Free Festival, though that just makes my show feel more special!
CC: What are your plans for after Edinburgh?
RI: It’s time for a change but I’m keeping the queens, only my persona is creeping in more. People are always asking if it’s funny, and comedy, I now know, is my first love.
Robert Inston’s show ‘Two Bloody Queens’ was performed at Laughing Horse @ The Argyle during Fringe 2010. He is pictured left with his director and ‘first jester’ Vincent Merich.