Michelle Madsen and Lizzy Shakespeare at Camden People's Theatre getting ready to perform Kill the Princess

Kill the Princess: There’s a Big Problem with Fairy-Tales

in Esotericism/Interview/Magick/Philosophy/Spotlight

TST (The Sunday Tribune) came to Kill the Princess at Camden People’s Theatre as part of the Calm Down Dear series. Can you tell me a bit about the series and being part of that, how did Kill the Princess fit into the theme of the festival?

Michelle: Calm Down Dear is an annual festival of radical feminist and female-led theatre. Kill The Princess is a ridiculous punk quest through the different fairytale characters which make us asking what do we need to sacrifice to tip the world back into balance.

How did the idea for Kill the Princess emerge? What is the big illusion of the piece?

Lizzy: We were both working on feminist re-workings of fairy-tales separately, exploring the lack of agency that the princesses had in them. When we started working together we went deep into these frustrations and how they manifest in the real world and in our own lives.

Michelle: Making Kill The Princess has been quite a journey for us. We deeply confused some audience members at the Brighton Fringe last year who thought they were coming to see a storytelling show by covering them with shaving foam and taking our clothes off. That’s when we realised that the show wasn’t about fairytales but how stories are claimed to support ideas and power systems. And how these stories live under our skin and how we keep unconsciously perpetuating the ideas in them. But we couldn’t put this into words so the show’s now basically us trying to run away from a giant parachute doubling as a princess’s ball gown and then brutally sacrificing it.

Did you draw on your own lives in exploring ideas and feelings about gender roles? Any aspects that were particularly uncomfortable? From a dramatic point of view did you welcome such moments?

Lizzy: Yes! Although we aim to mask these moments in the performance. We look into points in our lives where we have felt this lack of agency- being limited by our gender or society’s perception of gender roles. Uncomfortable fumbles in car parks as teenagers, embarrassing disco conversations with male partners, friends & colleagues – our relationships to the women around us. It was hard to examine some behaviours – particularly in relation to other women and those in which we felt truly disempowered next to men.

Michelle: Some of what you see on stage has played out in our own lives – Lizzy started performing a great misogynist office boss drag character called Danly Steele last year and all the testosterone and power she found in that changed the dynamics between us on stage – so the knights were born, and then THAT changed the dynamics between us as well. I find it hard to be honestly vulnerable with men so I find it easier to play the role of a queen than a princess. That’s all in the show and it’s a tricky gift – playing through all this throws a daily mirror up to the darker sides of your personality.

So much brilliant physical comedy in this production. Might I say you both are very talented physical comedians and thespians who seem to me as though you have been working on your own individual clowning style for some time. And you begin with a silent sequence, silence in that there are no words. There’s plenty of squeaks, shrieks, growls and snorts. This section seems to set up the audience for laughter. We become the articulate voices. Could you tell me something about these two aspects, the physical comedy and the use of voice in the play?

Lizzy: We wanted the audience to be able to make commentary on the show. So that for the most part it is not us who ‘tells’ them what the show is about – they decide what it is about. We want the show to be as universal as possible – so eliminating unnecessary text was important. Most of the fragments of text are improvised & the voiceover is the two of us talking during an R&D we did with poet and dramaturg Hannah Jane Walker about a year ago. It’s kind of a topic that we don’t really have the words for – so the physical side of performance just naturally came through.

Michelle: As I poet, I usually create with words as a starting point so I found the show’s evolution from a storytelling piece to a mad piece of clowning a crazy leap into the unknown. What became apparent when we started working with the great Lucy Hopkins was that we needed the language to be as live as the physical play between us and the audience because if it was fixed, it stopped the ‘stories’ in the piece from evolving. We know the general sense of the things we are saying but the language used comes from what we feel in the moment.

Finally I’d like to ask about comedy and gender particularly from the perspective of those who have been brought up as female going through puberty. I identified with this section in your play where you drew on the social politics and awkwardness of the school disco, the competition of the dance floor in particular the significant pairing-off ritual of the slow dance. Is this really funny? I felt the tragedy of life and growing up very strongly at the time and relived it during your production. What can comedy bring to reflecting on the illusion and experience of emerging womanhood?

Lizzy: Comedy is useful in pointing out the dark as well as the light in the world. If you can make someone laugh then you can usually bring into the discussion of more unpleasant topics & this is the tactic we are trying to employ. It is also really helpful in highlighting the ridiculousness of situations. If you can see how stupid it is to slow dance & become territorial over a mop, then you can see the ridiculousness of these ‘mating’ scenarios.

Michelle: I’m 37 and I still feel as if I am emerging as a woman – that makes me want to simultaneously scream with laughter and cry. The battles which I thought had been fought and won by feminists in the decades before I was born are still raging – the systems (and myths) we live in are the product of thousands of years of inequality. How do we rebalance that? By changing the stories we live by. And how do we do that? Through play, which has to be fun, otherwise it’s just work… and we definitely do enough of that.

Kill The Princess is on at the Edinburgh Fringe from August 1-25 at the Heroes of the Fringe SpiegelYurt at Potterrow Underpass

Performed, written and devised by Michelle Madsen and Lizzy Margererson Clown mentor: Lucy Hopkins
Dramaturgy: Hannah Jane Walker
Design: Finlay Forbes Gower
Outside Eyes: Eleanor Westbrook, Liv Carr-Archer, Saskia Solomons
Lighting: Rose Oldershaw

Trailer by Erin Leonidas Hopkins

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