How TV's The Windsors is making its unregal stage debut

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The WindsorsImage source, Oliver Rosser/Feast Creative

The Windsors has been running on Channel 4 since 2016 - a wild comic satire which has always put the rude before the regal. Now the show's transferring to the stage in London, with some of the TV cast.

The writer says the script of The Windsors: Endgame will try to keep up with the latest royal headlines, but that sometimes there are just too many to get in.

When scriptwriters Bert Tyler-Moore and George Jeffrie came up with the idea for a sitcom based on the UK Royal Family what loomed largest in their thoughts were two series from US TV. Neither show was a comedy but they each had a taste for excess and the overblown.

Image source, Marc Brenner
Image caption,
Harry Enfield returns to play Prince Charles

Tyler-Moore says the concept was simple. "We decided to mash up the British royals with the feel of a big, glossy American soap. In a way it was a fantasy of how the producers of shows such as Dallas and Dynasty would have commissioned it.

"So for instance, we have our obligatory over-the-top villain, which in our satirical take is Camilla Parker Bowles. Obviously it's nothing like the real Duchess of Cornwall but that's the point."

Jeffrie died last September at the age of 56 after a cardiac arrest. "He was my writing partner for almost 25 years," says Tyler-Moore.

"We'd just finished our first draft of The Windsors: Endgame when it happened. George's death was incredibly shocking and incredibly sad.

"But there's something sort of wonderful about getting it on in the West End. His widow Sally and their daughter Kate know it's the most wonderful tribute to his talent."

Image source, Marc Brenner
Image caption,
Tracy-Ann Oberman plays a pantomime villain version of Camilla

As on TV, Harry Enfield is playing the Prince of Wales. Another actor who's made the move is Tom Durant-Pritchard, who took over as Prince Harry in the most recent series.

"What's great is that we have a really strong storyline. It's not just a TV episode stretched out a bit. I also love that on stage the actors get to merge a lot more. For TV generally you're only all together on the final day when you actually film the episode," says Durant-Pritchard.

"And there's something new this time: even as we've rehearsed the play it's become more musical. I've never sung on stage ever and it's not what we thought we'd signed up for - but it gives some great moments."

Image source, Marc Brenner
Image caption,
Kara Tointon plays Kate alongside Ciaran Owens as Prince William

Ciaran Owens has taken over as Prince William from Hugh Skinner who played the role on TV. He says he doesn't want to give away the entire plot.

"But I will reveal that at the start of the action the Queen abdicates in favour of Charles. That makes things very unsteady and soon Wills and Kate are on a mission to stabilise Britain's monarchy. Wills wants Harry and Meghan to return from California and meanwhile Camilla is taking Britain back to a feudal society."

An issue which features more obviously for Durant-Pritchard than for his colleagues is that of hair dye. Currently he's sporting hair red enough to provoke a stampede in a herd of highland cattle.

Image source, Oliver Rosser/Feast Creative
Image caption,
Tom Durant-Pritchard, who plays Harry, says his hair dye is "obscenely red"

"I'd been inside getting it dyed and I thought the shade wasn't too drastic. Then I went outdoors in the sun and I caught a shocking glimpse of myself in a car window. But for now my hair will remain obscenely ginger."

All in the accent

A more general question faces the whole cast: how should their characters speak? Eliza Butterworth has taken over the role of Princess Eugenie, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of York.

Image source, Marc Brenner
Image caption,
Jenny Rainsford (left) as Beatrice and Eliza Butterworth as Eugenie "have their own surreal twist on poshness"

"I think the TV shows mean the audience expects an absolutely hilarious, bonkers spectacle. One thing people love is the exaggerated way some characters speak. Like everything in the play, there are elements of the ludicrous... but it has to be sprinkled with truth too or it won't work," says Butterworth.

"We're very lucky to have a wonderful dialogue coach called Patricia Logue who's working with all the actors in different ways. Some of us need to use more exaggeration than others. Along with Jenny Rainsford (playing her sister Princess Beatrice) I get to accentuate and extend my vowel sounds in odd ways.

"The two sisters have their own surreal twist on poshness which is huge fun to play. And whereas we're all familiar with how Wills or Harry speak, probably Eugenie and Beatrice are a bit less familiar so we get to invent more."

Image source, Marc Brenner
Image caption,
Tom Durant-Pritchard as Harry and Crystal Condie as Meghan are first seen at home in Malibu

The two other actors who've made the journey from TV are Matthew Cottle (Prince Edward) and Tim Wallers (Prince Andrew). It's Andrew's daughters' mission to restore the good name of the House of York which provides one of the strands of the story.

For part of the play the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are at home in Malibu, their days filled with meditation, podcasts and the welfare of rescue chickens. But the demands of the play bring family members together. Swordplay proves central.

The Queen is no-go territory

There is, and always has been, an obvious omission in The Windsors: the Queen does not feature. Tyler-Moore says that decision came early on in discussions with Channel 4.

"I think they thought it best to steer clear of the Queen and George and I agreed. She's a hugely respected figure, even among people in Britain who aren't at all monarchist. We were very happy to let her be. As the play shows, there are plenty of other people to take the mickey out of," he says.

Image source, Marc Brenner
Image caption,
Ciaran Owens (right) says he's come to admire elements of his character Prince William in real life

"Some characters are more fantastical than others. In the new script Camilla has become almost a fairy-tale villain. But I would say Harry and Meghan are more like exaggerations of what they are in real life. I've tried to build in references to recent events, like when Harry announced he's to publish his memoirs next year. But things change so often that not everything can stay in."

He says the reworking of the script necessitated by getting the show on its feet has been instructive to him as a writer.

"What I've realised even in the last week is that in theatre it's not just a matter of gag after gag, as it can be with TV.

Image source, Marc Brenner

"It's more about building a scene and letting the scene breathe, allowing the funny situation to do the work for you rather than always finding a funny gag line. Already in previews I've felt the audience enjoying the story, which to a writer is very satisfying."

Owens says he's not a monarchist but that there are elements of Prince William's character in real life which he's come to admire.

"I think he wants to make the monarchy more inclusive and more modern. In our show he's torn between his love for his father and love of his country. It's almost Shakespearean in its scope."

Durant-Pritchard agrees that, along with all the madness, there are moments of pathos. "And they have to be there because ultimately if it's just joke after joke people would leave feeling slightly underwhelmed. We're giving the story a bit of heart too."

The Windsors: Endgame is at the Prince of Wales Theatre in London until 9 October.

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