Whether it’s Shakespearean nobility or a certain type of gay man, Stratford sees its share of queens. This season, however, Ontario’s theatre capital plays host to the English-language premiere of a play based on the life of one of history’s more unusual monarchs.
Michel Marc Bouchard, the mind behind Lilies and Tom at the Farm — both plays that have been adapted into feature films — is the author of Christina, The Girl King, the story of a 17th-century Swedish queen.
Queen Christina was infamous for her mercurial political career, as well as her unconventional gender expression and sexuality. The production’s director, Alberta-based theatre veteran Vanessa Porteous, is excited to tackle such a singular historic figure.
“She’s so full of contradictions; she’s such a heroine, but she’s so flawed,” Porteous says. “She’s impulsive, she’s passionate, she doesn’t understand her own feelings, she’s intelligent, she wants the best for her people. She’s doing everything she can to reconcile her inner needs and her public duty. I guess that really drew me to the play the first time I read it — the character.”
Bouchard’s play condenses approximately eight years of history into one evening of theatre, focusing on a period when Christina was contemplating abdication. “She was the Lutheran queen of Sweden in 1649, and that’s when she began to ask herself whether she really belonged and whether she was the best thing for the country — and the country was the best thing for her,” Porteous says.
She notes that the meticulously researched play doesn’t shy away from Christina’s undoubtedly queer sexuality. “The play is such a wonderful thing, and in my knowledge a really unusual thing, because it’s kind of like an epic coming-out story,” she says. “I think Michel Marc is making an ideological or political point there. He’s showing that the drama of coming out is worthy of an epic retelling.”