If you are not sure what to expect from Fairy Queen then you are not alone – an Internet search for the play elicits no response and its writer Olivier Cadiot does not even possess his own Wikipedia page. But do not let this put you off. Fairy Queen represents a highly ambitious dramatic project and should not be missed.
Fairy Queen began as a French novel, published in 2002, but when the talented Dominic Glynn met Cadiot, they began to collaborate on the text. Glynn has already performed a reading version of his own translation in London. His rendering in Oxford next week offers something closer to a conventional play, although many elements from the original novel still remain – Glynn is the only actor, performing a monologue that encompasses numerous different speakers and intrusions from an omniscient narrator.
The story features a fairy in 1920s Paris, who goes to the house of the American writer Gertrude Stein to give a performance of her poetry. But the events that follow do not match the fairy’s expectations as Stein turns out not to be quite as she had originally anticipated.
All these events are narrated by Glynn, who is seated in centre stage and barely moves throughout the performance. As the plot unravels around the fairy, we are given direct access to her mental processes – thoughts ranging from comic satire of Stein to the fabulous workings of her overactive imagination, from intense sensory delight to emotional insecurity. But the narrative moves quickly between different speakers, between reality and imagination, leaving the audience in a dream world, unsure what to believe.
As the sole actor, Glynn faces the tough task of providing a stimulating dramatic performance that will keep the audience involved throughout but he proves himself highly capable of handling such a challenge. At times he stares thoughtfully into middle distance, at times he stares the audience straight in the face, urging them to enter his fantasy. Similarly, his variations of tone and different facial expressions ensure that the narrative never becomes flat or monotonous. Instead, as he explores the intricacies of this strange world, the audience explores them too, seeing everything that he sees and feeling everything that he feels.
Attempting to navigate myself in the strange world that Fairy Queen evokes was not an easy experience so if you are looking for some light relief from the pressures of revision then this is probably not for you. But if you are prepared to be challenged by an extremely thoughtful and unique performance then I cannot imagine time better spent than admiring the results of Glynn’s immense effort and flair.
four stars out of five
Burton Taylor Studio, 9-13 June