Shakespeare’s Queens: She-wolves and Serpents – Q&A with Kath Perry

AussieTheatre’s Clare Pickering chats with writer and performer Kath Perry (with backseat comments from co-star Rachel Ferris) about her new play, Shakespeare’s Queens: She-wolves and Serpents. The play, presented by Straylight Australia, had it’s world premiere recently in Adelaide, and is planning a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe later in the year. 

Shakespeare's Queens: She-wolves and Serpents
Shakespeare's Queens: She-wolves and Serpents

1. What was the first production you were involved in & how old were you?

Apart from school concerts, my first play was a one-act version of Much Ado About Nothing with my local drama group. I played Beatrice and fell in love with Shakespeare instead of Benedict.

2. Have you ever played the role of a Queen before?

In my last play, Shakespeare’s Mothers: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know several of the mothers I played were also Queens, like Eleanor of Aquitaine and Tamora, Queen of Goths. Before that I don’t think I’d played any Queens, though quite a few aristocrats like Lady Lucy Angkatell in Agatha Christie’s ‘The Hollow’ and Lady Bracknell in ‘The Importance of Being Ernest’

3. Shakespeare’s Queens – who devised this show?

I wrote it with a lot of help from my Complete Works of William Shakespeare and the reference libraries in Stratford-upon-Avon. Then we shook it up a bit on the rehearsal room floor.

4. What has been the most memorable moment during your rehearsals so far?

When we arrived in Adelaide, it was over 40 degrees and the air conditioning at our apartment was broken so we ended up rehearsing in the front room in front of four fans, in our undies.

5. What has been the most memorable moment during the season so far?

At the end of the Richard III scene, Rachel Ferris (Lady Anne) falls into Patrick Trumper’s (Richard’s) arms. One night her corset fastenings got entangled in the lace on his shirt and they ended up stuck fast together, necessitating some clever ad-libbing until they could wrench themselves apart. ‘Stuck on you, Shakespeare’ is one of Rachel’s that sticks in my memory.

6. Who is your favourite Queen and why?

Queen Margaret of Anjou, is my favourite queen because Shakespeare gives us so much of her story in his plays. She is in all of the Henry Vis (Pts 1, 2 and 3) and in Richard III, so we follow her from her late teens through to old age. During the course of the plays she is captured in battle, marries Henry VI, has a passionate love-affair with the Duke of Suffolk, suffers Suffolk’s banishment and death, raises an army and takes to the battlefield to defend her son’s right to the throne, loses both her son and her husband to Richard III and ends up old and crazy cursing everyone in sight.

7. How did you become involved in this production?

A few years ago I did a four-week intensive course in acting Shakespeare at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London and loved the roles I studied there. It gave me the idea of making a play about all of the fabulous women Shakespeare wrote. My tutor, Greg de Polnay, encouraged me saying, ‘If you write it, my dear, I shall direct!’ So I did write my first play Shakespeare’s Mothers: Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, and Greg did direct it. We took it first to Edinburgh and then to Adelaide, when co-director, Roz Riley also came on board. It was  great success and such fun that I decided to follow it with Shakespeare’s Queens.

8. How many Queens do you play?

Between us, Rachel and I play all of Shakespeare’s 19 Queens plus Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots.

9. Which Queen best describes you?

According to Patrick, who plays Shakespeare, it’s the fairy queen Titania, but I think I’m more like Tamora, the bloodthirsty Queen of the Goths.

10. Which Queen do you most identify with (or wish you could be like?)

Rachel wants to answer this one as she is hoping to turn into Cleopatra one day, preferably before the end of the run.

11. Will there be/is there a Shakespeare’s Kings?

It isn’t on the drawing board, yet. Mostly because it is the women that fascinate me most.

12. If you lived in Shakespeare’s time, who do you think you would have been?

Rachel wants to answer this one, too. She’d be a time traveller so she could get back here to her WiFi.

13. Is the show coming to Melbourne?

We would love to bring it to Melbourne but have nothing planned at the moment.

14. Is the tour continuing beyond Adelaide?

We are hoping to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe in August and will look for other opportunities in Australia and Europe between then and now.

15. Tell us about the show- how many plays, how many Queens & how does it all link together?

The show includes all 19 of Shakespeare’s Queens, from 16 plays, linked together by an argument between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots over how best to rule. Shakespeare joins the two dead queens on his own death and is pulled into the argument when they demand to see all his queens in action to provide them with some new ammunition for their battle.

16. When was this play first performed & where?

We had two NSW previews before coming to Adelaide. The first was at the Fig Tree Theatre on the Uni New South Wales campus in Sydney, on 21 February, and the next night we played Bundeena RSL. Bundeena is a little town in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney.

17. Is this the first Australian production?

Yes. It’s the global premier!!

18. There’s a male in the cast. Does he play a Queen too?

Patrick Trumper doesn’t play a queen, though the first version of the script had him down for the ‘Player Queen’ from Hamlet, but he does play Shakespeare, the Kings and all the other male roles. Seventeen characters altogether – in 60 minutes1

19. Where has the tour taken you & was there a particularly interesting place/theatre?

So far only Sydney, Bundeena and Adelaide. Certainly playing Bundeena RSL is interesting. We did it successfully last year with ‘Shakespeare’s Mothers’ and had an even bigger turn out this time. The RSL is very pleased with the shows and is insisting I write another one and come back next year!

20. I recently saw an all female cast production of Romeo & Juliet. Is this the future of Shakespearean productions? A sort of backlash on his time when all roles were played by men?

There have been several all-female Shakespeare productions over the years and productions where the male lead is played by a woman – Hamlet and Richard III are both roles that get gender reassigned quite frequently. Personally, I’m quite happy playing the women as they are all fabulous roles. I just wish there were more of them.

Click here to download Shakespeare’s Queen’s Education Pack for teachers



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