There’s something exquisite about entering the Trades Hall to see LadyCake. It’s the slight vertigo that derives from crossing the threshold of time: walking up that darkly lit stairwell with flaking paint stuck yellowish to the wall and stairs buffeted smooth by thousands of trampling feet. Then you enter The New Ballroom and you’re transported through time yet again: To France and the court of Marie Antoinette, a hermetically sealed bubble of aristocratic debauchery complete with plastic inflatable hedges, fake flowers and lots of pink fabric.
Created and performed by Candace Miles, Madelaine Nunn and Anna Rodway, LadyCake follows the lives of three handmaidens employed to serve the profligate and promiscuous Antoinette. They are blinded by their proximity to her. Obsessed with providing for her every need, they delude themselves into believing they have a close and confidential relationship with Antoinette, forever ignoring that unbridgeable social gap between royalty and ‘everyone else’.
What emerges as the performance unfolds is a clever critique of femininity—or at least the dominant perception of femininity—constituted by gossip, judgment, speculation, idolisation and objectification. With Antoinette herself as the object of our attentions, LadyCake reevaluates our assumptions around the fated queen and asks us to assess the historical and social contingencies that led to her demonisation.
We all know what doom is about to befall this perfect plastic-wrapped world of artificial peach scent, enormous white wigs and encumbering costume. Yet that sense of impeding catastrophe, of a far-off French revolution waiting in the wings until (as it is written in the chronicles) it suddenly takes us all by violent surprise, feels unexpectedly and inescapably pertinent. When people believe that democracy has lost its touch, when oligarchs and demagogues reign supreme and private interests Trump (and Turnbull—ho ho ho) public concerns, the parallels between our epoch and 18th century France becomes clear.
Ranging from high farce to melodrama, LadyCake is both dazzling and charming. Miles, Nunn and Rodway have fashioned and executed an entertaining work which avoids didacticism, plays into their strengths as excellent performers, and demonstrates a thoughtful critique of our contemporary political climate. No element sticks out of place here. LadyCake is a seamless composition, one of those works that reminds us why theatre is so damn exciting—and so damn good.