Next up for Western Canada Theatre is the world premiere of a play that juggles two political realities revolving around the British crown.
Serving Elizabeth takes on two alternating settings. One is in Kenya, 1952, following the aftermath of the death of King George VI and Princess Elizabeth’s succession to the crown. The other is in 2015, as Brexit-era politics create turmoil as a Kenyan-Canadian production intern works on a TV show about the Royal Family.
The play’s genesis is not too far removed from its plot. Playwright Marcia Johnson wrote the play over her disappointment in how Kenyans were portrayed in the Netflix series The Crown.
“They were just a backdrop,” she said, noting that they didn’t get to speak English and weren’t a part of the story.
“I thought it was a huge missed opportunity, particularly since it was written in 2014/2015, when discussion about imperialism was really strong,” she said.
Colonialism and Britain’s imperialist past are themes that run throughout the play. Elizabeth’s coronation coincides with the start of the Mau Mau Uprising, a key event in Kenyan history. The armed revolt against British colonialists brought bloodshed and the eventual independence of the East Africa country.
That’s one of the reasons why the oversight was so glaring for Johnson, who is also taking on two roles in the play and will be among the production’s five cast members at its debut at Sagebrush Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 20, at 7:30 p.m.
The play’s director, Leah-Simone Bowen, has about 15 years of direction under her belt and is also a playwright herself. While that combined experience has been useful in helping Johnson bring her vision to the stage, Bowen said her work on the history podcast Secret Life of Canada, has been informative.
“I feel like that actually has helped me more in this process, because this play is also an investigation into how we look at history and how we tell stories and whose stories get told,” she said.
Bowen said the more she investigated the play’s dual settings, the more similarities she found. She said Britain’s vote on Brexit and Kenya’s launch toward independence are both explorations of the effects of colonialism.
“Brexit is about so many things, but a lot of it has to do with some people in the U.K. wanting to hang onto the feeling of being a superpower, an empire,” she said.
Apart from the political, Bowen said as a director, other important distinctions needed to be considered, as well.
“Physically, for the actors, it’s about how people behaved. It’s so different than in 2015 — just the fact that people had way better posture,” she said, also noting that speech and communication in the two eras also greatly differ.
The differences will be made clear for audiences, considering the play alternates back and forth between the two eras, forcing actors to swap costumes — and comportments — blazingly quick, with everyone taking on at least two roles.
The play is the Western Canada Theatre debut for the play’s playwright, director and cast, and with just a week to go until the curtains open, Johnson told KTW she couldn’t be happier with the creative team behind the production.
Tickets are available at the Kamloops Live box office, 1025 Lorne St., 250-374-5483 and online at kamloopslive.ca.
The play runs until Feb. 29, with a number of special performances and matinees. For more information, go online to wctlive.ca/servingelizabeth.htm.