A commanding portrayal of a tragic, overlooked and neglected princess

A scene from Princess Undone at Eastbourne's Devonshire Park Theatre
A scene from Princess Undone at Eastbourne's Devonshire Park Theatre

Eastbourne has a royal visitor this week, with Stephanie Beacham gracing the Devonshire Park stage as Princess Margaret, in an intriguing Evergreen Theatre production of A Princess Undone.

The clue is in the title. Most of Tuesday’s admirably full opening-night audience will have known the life story already, or at least the public version of it. Miss Beacham’s is a fascinating portrayal of a complex and quite tragic character. While Elizabeth rises to the greatness thrust upon her, Margaret, the overlooked, even neglected younger sister, must reconcile public persona with private turbulence.

On a quite sumptuous set with a regal feel - Margaret’s Kensington Palace apartment - Beacham has total command of the character, switching brilliantly between royal-personage mode and insecure, vulnerable private person.

She can be caustic, defiantly irreverent, world-weary, tearfully fragile. She can skilfully field diplomatic questions and she can kick off her shoes and twist to Desmond Dekker.

It is a consummate study in flawed royalty. Richard Stirling, director as well as writer, has created a literate, elegant script threaded with surprising humour, as well as sudden moments of devastating pathos. Its weakness is in the frequent wilfully oblique references to the back-stories. Charles and Diana we knew about, but there are too many royal in-jokes. A fling with Randy Andy? and a Kray Twins reference tossed provocatively sideways at the audience?

The unannounced arrival of a young friend of Margaret’s son Viscount Linley - played with likeabe panache by Harry Livingstone - is no more than a slightly baffling distraction, and only on the very point of the interval do matters take a sudden dramatic turn: an unwelcome old friend from the past threatens to shatter the cut-glass of Margaret’s world. But dramatic now teeters on the edge of melodramatic, for the new intruder John Bindon is a former gangster and thoroughly unsavoury character from Margaret’s past. Bindon’s part, a bit underwritten and cliched, is nonetheless skilfully handled. Not an unmissable show, but a thought-provoking and involving piece of theatre.

Don’t miss out on all the latest breaking news where you live.

Here are four ways you can be sure you’ll be amongst the first to know what’s going on.

1) Make our website your homepage at www.eastbourneherald.co.uk/

2) Like our Facebook page at Text to display

3) Follow us on Twitter @Eastbournenews

4) Register with us by clicking on ‘sign in’ (top right corner). You can then receive our daily newsletter AND add your point of view to stories that you read here.

And do share with your family and friends - so they don’t miss out!

The Eastbourne Herald - always the first with your local news.

Be part of it.