"Krupinski’s script is beautifully constructed… literate and evocative."
- Straight Acting Theatre
Highly recommended: D’Eon at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
Flaneur Slider, Theatre
A powerful central performance, inventive staging, and the tightest of ensembles make Renny Krupinski’s raucous, strident production about a real-life transgender war hero sing, writes Amy Brushfield.
An elderly figure, drinking heavily, stalks the stage as the audience enter, accompanied by a cross-dressing pianist. Tinkling the ivories prettily, underscoring the chatter and hubbub of an excited first night crowd who completely surround the action as it unfolds, there are sudden slips in tempo, the odd bum note jarring the atmosphere. As the music becomes out-of-kilter, so the figure jolts and wheezes, strikes the air frenetically, manically brushes her clothes and face, yelps and cries and whirls and shakes, her nervous eyes darting to every single nook and cranny. It is an arresting opening to a thrilling evening which twists and turns through the tumultuous life and career of a French Chevalier forced to recount his version of events to a nervy young writer (expertly played by William J. Holstead as an anxious but earnest picture of innocence) eager to publish a book – and this Chevalier, D’Eon de Beaumont, it transpires, had quite the life.
Aside from fighting in the Seven Years’ War, D’Eon had been forced to dress as a woman in order to infiltrate Empress Elizabeth of Russia’s court and conspire with the French during tense relations between them, the English, and the monarchy of Habsburg, as part of Louis XV’s ‘Secret’ department. However, for the last few decades of his life, D’Eon himself chose to live as a woman, causing outrage, consternation, and condemnation. Probably the first recorded transgender human in Europe, the androgynous D’Eon is first presented as embittered, haunted, and introspective, dangerously quiet in his speech directly to the audience and barking angrily at the pianist, who may or may not be the soldier’s inner self. But, as Renny Krupinski’s raucous, strident, and fluid production shifts into another gear, we see flashes of D’Eon’s wicked, black humour, his vulnerability, stubbornness, courage, aching hurt, and final ruin.
To say much more would spoil the plot and the surprises, which come thick and fast as the ensemble begins to filter in and out of the story. Krupinski’s sharp, often poetic, and cleverly crafted script is conveyed flawlessly by a skillful cast of twelve, who hurl themselves into electric scenes of debauchery, ribald humour, nail-biting violence, and pure slapstick, all conjured by the Chevalier’s vivid memory. And always on the sidelines, either being encouraged or abused, is the deadpan Patrick Bridgman, providing the tale with its own unique soundtrack – a lovely touch. As we come to know D’Eon and his sufferings, so we sympathise with his predicament and grieve when his achievements are whitewashed by the powers that be. There is no lecture here, no judgement, just plain, hard truth, and all the more affecting for it.
In D’Eon, Krupinski has sculpted a deliciously juicy and incredibly challenging female role which Kaitlin Howard seizes with both hands. Commanding the stage for the entire two-hour running time, she is utterly convincing in her portrayal, whether hallucinating within the sickly D’Eon’s living hell, viciously slaying oncoming Prussian soldiers, teasing Holstead’s painfully shy Thomas, or bartering for her recognition, Howard is always magnificently watchable, charting the character’s journey effortlessly and movingly. The light, pleasingly back-and-forth chemistry with Holstead allows the audience to relax into the rather dense but pacy first act and establishes their growing relationship.
But superb as she is, this is not just a solo effort, Howard being supported by what is surely the tightest, brightest, and most versatile ensemble in town. Bursting from all directions to instantly command the intimate in-the-round space and always investing characters with detail, clarity, and infectious energy, this is clearly an uninhibited, playful company with bags of trust in one another. Although there isn’t a weak link, the engaging Louise McNulty stands out as D’Eon’s fiercely loyal housekeeper, Adrian Palmer switches deftly from a preening, lisping mentor to the raging, pompous Ambassador with murder on his mind, Marc Geoffrey’s nymphomaniac King desperately struggling to keep control of France is a constant delight, the bewitching Adam Elms is outrageously funny as the conniving, histrionic Foreign Minister and quietly touching as a kindly compassionate secret spy, Rachael Gill-Davis’ comic Pompadour is a deliciously scheming and screeching tart, and as the famed playwright Beaumarchais, Dean Fagan lends him an easy charm which turns ever darker and crueller as bargains are made and power games played.
Propelling such a provocative and strong-willed historical figure – and in particular, a largely unknown one – on to the stage turns this production into one of the most fascinating and gripping pieces of theatre I have witnessed in many years. Chevalier D’Eon de Beaumont was a pioneer. A brilliant soldier, spy, and diplomat – and, most importantly, one that was unafraid of being their own person, despite continuous attempts to silence them. That the play feels so urgent, so compelling, so relevant, and so brave is testament to Krupinski and his fearless, dynamic company. It stimulates both the head and the heart and everyone should get the chance to see it, if only to witness a key segment of history that the establishment tried to wipe clean away. I applaud The Straight Acting Company and all involved. Highly recommended.
By Amy Brushfield.
- Straight Acting Theatre
FEB 15 2018
REVIEW: D’EON, HOPE MILL THEATRE
[d'eon hope mill]
D’Eon by Renny Krupinski
Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester [14.02.18]
A chaise longue beneath which lie endless crumpled bits of paper. A table with yet more crumpled paper, an open bottle of wine and a cork screw. A woman frantically attempting to write but never quite being successful. D’Eon.
Renny Krupinski’s delicately crafted and poignant new play, D’Eon transports us back to the 1700’s to explore the life of Chevaliere D’Eon de Beaumont: a French diplomat, soldier and spy who infiltrated the Court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia. These were among her many astounding achievements and reason why she is of such huge importance to European history. D’Eon was the first openly documented transgender person in European history. Living in a time when any identity beyond the gender binary of male and female was not readily talked about and acknowledged, D’Eon’s decision to leave France with her birth assigned gender of male and return as the woman she had always been was nothing short of a slap in the face to democracy and an honest decision to live her own truth as herself.
Brought into a world that flits between England, France and Russia and a sea of good wine from D’Eon’s cellar, we are delivered a fruitful and action packed tale of disguise, glory, identity erasure and dishonour. D’Eon’s telling of her life story to the young Thomas Plummer is witty and charismatic. More than seventy years worth of memories are told and recreated, as the two linguistically joust over many a game of fencing. Kaitlin Howard’s performance as D’Eon is captivating, we are left hanging on her every word as she remarks on everything from her father bringing her up as a boy despite her being a girl (she later expresses that this is ‘a lie’ though that highly depends on semantics) to Morande and Beaumarchais’ manipulation and mistreatment of her, in the aim of profit over her basic right to be acknowledged as a woman. The chemistry between Howard and William Holstead (who plays Thomas Plummer) is nothing short of electric. Her strength and charisma played against his fear, awkwardness and warmth, whilst delivering a lyrical and straight-talking script keeps this story moving purposefully through what could easily have been a stodgy piece of history.
D’Eon is certainly not short of humour nor sex. Marc Geoffrey’s performance as a lustful and sexually-hyped Louis XV alongside both of his mistresses, dominatrix Madame Pompadour (Rachael Gill-Davis) and tease Madame du Barry (Evelyn Roberts) creates for a heap of sexual acts (and an animal sex party that is likely only one of many) that put the gags in Carry on Emmanuelle to shame. Gill-Davis and Roberts sizzle in their charm of the king and certainly raise our temperatures each time they almost break into the aristocratic equivalent of a Slaters sisters’ fight of Eastenders. Geoffrey and Gill-Davis keep us in stitches in their demonstration of a portion of the karma sutra – where lying back and thinking of England is the worst thing you could do. Louis however meets a sticky end, dying whilst eating out Madame du Barry is certainly a way to go!
All jokes aside, the final moments of Krupinski’s play are something that you won’t easily forget. Despite D’Eon welcoming death with open arms and planning on writing a strongly worded letter when she reaches hell, her final breaths are to tell Thomas that she has told him many lies. She tells him that her story contains falsities: she was not assigned female at birth but coerced by her father into being a male (and then coerced by de Guerchy into being a woman) in the name of France. D’Eon was assigned male at birth but has always been a woman, it was only in her later life that she was able to be that woman freely. On her passing, her house maid Mrs Cole (played by Louise McNulty) shoos the ghosts that she cannot see away and proclaims D’Eon as her friend. But, it is when she sits to wash D’Eon and on lifting her garments up unveils D’Eon’s penis to the audience. The audible gasp of the room quickly quietened as D’Eon stood up, took a fencing sword and declared “Right, which one of you bastards is first?!”
The sheer strength of character of D’Eon is not just something that needs to be remembered but talked about. She was a woman of immense intelligence, talent and wit who had to fight for and be treated abhorrently for her right to live her life as the woman she was born. This incredible story is beautifully told by The Straight Acting Theatre Company. And I am left feeling that if there’s one thing we can do in life it is truly embrace the person that we are… be more like D’Eon.
Verdict: This telling of D’Eon is witty, passionate and empowering – a window into the life of an incredible and underrated woman.
- Straight Acting Theatre
- British Theatre Guide
British Theatre Guide
The Straight Acting Theatre Company
Hope Mill Theatre
From 13 February 2018 to 17 February 2018
Review by David Chadderton
[Kaitlin Howard as Chavalière D'Eon de Beaumont, Shay Rowan] [Kaitlin Howard as Chavalière D'Eon de Beaumont and William James Holstead as Thomas Plummer, Shay Rowan] [The cast of D'Eon, Shay Rowan]
Kaitlin Howard as Chavalière D'Eon de Beaumont
Credit: Shay Rowan
The latest play from actor, writer, director and fight choreographer Renny Krupinski is a remarkably ambitious sweep through French 18th-century history with a cast of 12 performing in-the-round in a very intimate space in Hope Mill.
It deals with the fascinating true story of Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont (Kaitlin Howard)—the D'Eon of the title—whom we first see at the age of 81, post-Revolution, demanding alcohol from the widow Mrs Cole (Louise McNulty) to stave off the DTs.
One of these drink-induced hallucinations is Patrick Bridgeman, who sits behind a keyboard wearing a dress providing some very atmospheric accompanying music throughout, and the other is us, the audience, to whom D'Eon tells the story—a neat device to bring the artifice of theatre into the character's real world. D'Eon also sees people from the past, now dead, including two French kings and their mistresses, various nobles and the writer Beaumarchais, haunting the one left alive.
Against the will of her charge, Mrs Cole admits young, easily shockable Thomas Plummer (William J Holstead) who is taking notes for a book about D'Eon's life and has much-needed money to exchange for memories. So D'eon tells him: she was brought up by her father as a boy and knew no different, learning to fence and dressing as a boy. As an adult, she entered politics as a man, joining King Louis XIV's (Marc Geoffrey) secret spy network and going on a secret mission to Russia—dressed as a woman.
Returning to France, she became a decorated war hero as a male soldier, but then there were rumours while in exile in London that "he" was a "she", prompting bets on the London Stock Exchange on D'Eon's sex, but he/she refused to submit to the indignity of confirming it. When Louis XVI (Ethan Holmes) took over from his grandfather, he refused to accept a woman could be a decorated war hero or a soldier at all and insisted, through negotiations conducted by Beaumarchais (Dean Anthony Fagan), that she must dress as a woman and retire from political life to be allowed back to France.
Krupinski himself describes this as "a hugely challenging epic monster of a play", which is undoubtedly true. The plot features politics, spying, attempted murder, lots of sex and political intrigue; the staging has elaborate eighteenth-century costumes and sword fights almost in the lap of the front row; the huge cast all give full-on, dedicated performances with not a weak link amongst them. It all seems like so much work for less than a week of performances; one hopes it goes further for that reason alone.
The script takes an already intriguing story that I certainly didn't know and tells it pretty well for the most part. Not being up on my French history, having the stage filled with shouty people about whom I knew little to nothing early on was a little confusing and it took me a while to really get to grips with what was going on. This isn't helped by having two separate devices for the hero/ine to tell her story to the audience—hallucinating an audience in her room and having a writer to tell it to—which seems one too many.
The whole play revolves around a very impressive and powerful central performance by Howard, who rarely leaves the stage, with Holstead perfect as the nervous naïf, trying to get the truth out of her without getting stabbed. Completing the cast are Adrian Palmer as Comte De Guerchy, Evelyn Roberts as Madame Du Barry, Adam Elms as Duc De Choiseul, Rachel Gill Davis as Madame Pompadour and Lucas Smith as Morande.
While the storytelling at times could be clearer, this feels like a remarkably accomplished production of a huge play, despite the small stage. There is a twist at the end that throws everything before it in doubt; you can guess at the nature of it if you read Wikipedia, but not at the explicit way in which it is revealed.
© David Chadderton 2018
- Straight Acting Theatre
- North West End
D’Eon - Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
Hope Mill Theatre,
Straight Acting Theatre Company
Upon entering Hope Mill Theatre the audience are greeted by a pianist, a chaise longue, an armchair and a table and chair with loads of crumpled up pieces of paper. It appears as if someone is suffering from writer’s block.
D’Eon is a new play from the Straight Acting Theatre Company, written by Edinburgh Fringe First Winner; Renny Krupinski. It is based on the life of Monsieur Chevalier D’Eon de Beaumont who was born male, yet lived the later part of his life as a female. The story is made even more complicated given the fact the majority of the play is set in the 18th Century and that D’Eon fought as a soldier.
Kaitlin Howard who plays D’Eon is on stage throughout the entire two and a half hour production. She is absolutely superb in the lead role and delivers lots of light and shade to the character - she made us feel sad when D’Eon was sad and happy when D’Eon was happy. Not only that but she had a lot of choreography and stage fighting to contend with too, which she pulled off with ease.
The Straight Acting Theatre Company are a relatively new company, only being formed in 2016. They endeavour to enrich the lives of audience by producing live theatre that focuses on the detail of life and the stories we all have to tell. They really deserve a pat on the back for bringing and untold and very important story to the public’s attention.
Other notable performances come from William J Holstead who captures the nervousness and intriguement of Thomas very well. The rest of the ensemble are also fantastically committed to their roles, which one may say is not for the faint-hearted.
Although D’Eon does address a serious issue, there are also a lot of laughs in this play. Many of these come from the ensemble with the use of pigs, snakes, prosthetic penises and some sexual innuendo.
There were times when D’Eon did become a tad hard to follow as there were so many characters. It was also a bit on the lengthy side, having said that it was still a very enjoyable watch and recommended.
It’s not very often you get to see a play that explores the theme of gender and equality. It’s interesting to know that the issues have stretched back as far as 200 years, yet sad that you fast forward to 2018 and things haven’t changed that much.
D’Eon runs at Hope Mill Theatre until 17th February. https://hopemilltheatre.co.uk/events/deon/
Reviewer: Brian Madden
Reviewed: 13th February 2018
North West End Rating: ★★★★