Review: Royal Jelly

Brianna McFarlane

          From the very opening moments of Royal Jelly, written by Kara Crabb,I knew it was going to be a production that was going to be misunderstood. Presented by local company Book of Why, this play pushes boundaries in both dramaturgy and performance, however, those not familiar with the classic myth this piece makes reference to the artistic and dramaturgical choices might be difficult to understand. A story about trying to maintain order in an ever changing world, this piece mocks three women and their struggle to find genuine connection after the fall of the patriarchy.

The play starts off with an evocative movement piece including all three female performers in different coloured robes and white masks, reminiscent of a Greek chorus. This sets the tone for the strange events that are about to take place on stage. The three performers are in fact the polygamist widows of their recently deceased husband and leader Jacob. They have survived the apocalypse and are now camped out in a bunker where they subsist on parts of their husband’s corpse. As their resources continue to dwindle and Jacob’s infant heir grows older, the question of succession comes into play and the women’s attempt at trying to uphold their “strange, self-imposed hierarchy” leads to tragedy.

The text itself satirizes classical adaptations through its recreation of the heightened language, the plot, and the staging conventions used. Every gesture is overblown and each syllable is exaggerated and heavily intoned, making reference to the confines of the classical language. The level of sarcasm delivered with most of the lines is certainly not lost either serving to criticize both their society and ours. By contrast they break away from the adornment of this speech during moments of great emotional stress when they resort to lewd body language and vulgarities.

The overall design is also another strong point in this show. The stage is kept fairly minimal with a large triangular stage block taking up centre stage, some stray computer towers, and another small stage block. The three white connected rings hanging above centre stage allude to our classical Greek setting. The costumes are visually appealing in both colour and style and I appreciated that each character is dressed in a colour that is typically codified as feminine: red, pink, and coral. Finally, the soundscape by Kara-Lis Coverdale is unreal. Sitting just offstage of the performance, Coverdale’s medley of live and recorded music really adds depth to this piece and delivers a feeling of impending tragedy.

The actors do a great job with their roles on stage and the level of commitment is high in this show. The characters of Gal-Pal, Suffragir, and Pap-X are all completely distinct from one another and their names reflect their characterizations. It was a refreshing change to see a completely different acting style at the Fringe and the actors should really be commended for taking a risk of this kind.

Ultimately, I thought this was an incredibly vivid depiction of a repulsive and manipulative society that is not completely unlike our own. Royal Jelly is a creative twist on a classic tale and regardless of whether or not you understand it completely this show will give you something to talk about. Definitely one of my top picks to see at this year’s festival, I look forward to seeing more of this kind of stuff from this company in the future!