On set with Dubai Drama Group’s cast of “The Lion in Winter,” opening Nov 22

{“None of you will get my crown. I will leave you nothing and wish you plague” – King Henry II to his three warring sons, the Princes of England}

I got the nicest surprise last evening: an invitation to Dubai Drama Group‘s rehearsal for a behind-the-scenes look at their upcoming production, “The Lion in Winter.” With opening night just days away on November 22 at The Courtyard Playhouse, cast members were running lines and receiving scene notes from seasoned Director Penny Mackenzie when I joined them.

“I have wanted to do this play for the past twenty years,” shared Penny, “but the timing is finally right. I got to a point where I felt I could trust my choices with local stalwarts as well as young talent — there are three teenagers in the production — and I felt there was enough talent coming through Dubai that I could hold auditions to cast this show.”

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Justin Cipriano and Kristian Kolandjian rehearse a scene

Originally written by James Goldman, “The Lion in Winter” will open the Dubai Drama Group’s season with a political family drama set in Christmas 1183, where King Henry II of England’s (played by Jason Newton) three sons scheme to be named heir to the throne. Meanwhile, his estranged wife, Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine (played by Sara Potter) has finally been temporarily released after ten years of imprisonment to partake in the festivities…and adds her own plans for the crown to the mix.

In the midst of the family’s rivalry and treachery, King Philip II of France (played by Kristian Kolandjian), who also happens to be Eleanor’s ex-husband, demands they honor a treaty that his half-sister, Princess Alais (played by Amiya Nagpal) will marry the still unchosen future king of England…though she is in love with Henry and is his mistress. I can’t wait to watch this family’s Christmas reunion on stage, can you?

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Can’t wait for Opening Night! {#nikitalyfe with the show’s Director, Penny Mackenzie}

According to Sara, who plays Eleanor, audiences should look forward to this play because “it’s got great drama but huge amounts of humor. It’s never static, it’s a fun play but not farcical. It’s intelligent and witty and has meaty moments with a great ensemble cast!”

Her on-stage husband, Jason Newton who plays Henry II adds, “Lots of plays may have two or three leading roles, but this play isn’t like that. Every character is important to the plot and the way it interweaves will leave people at the edge of their seats. They won’t know what’s going to happen from one moment to the next.”

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Jason Newton and Sara Potter dive into their complicated royal roles (PC: Marcel Beck)

The cast’s camaraderie with one another and respect for their director was apparent throughout the evening. “Penny is really focusing on the lines themselves because she really understands this play. It’s a real feeling of support as an actor knowing that the person directing us knows everything she needs to know about every word and interaction in the play,” says Kristian, who plays King Philip and plans on pursing acting professionally after graduation.

“Penny’s feedback is always constructive. She has a way of making the script flow in this dialogue-heavy play,” adds Cameron Walne, a student at English College who plays Prince John. “My favorite scene is when John, the King’s favorite, finds out that he will not be automatically ascending to the throne. He has a bit of a breakdown but it shows why he is the way he is.”

Kyle Hershelman, who plays token middle-child Prince Geoffrey, was careful not to give away any plot spoilers: “Let’s just say that most of my favorite scenes are with Cameron.” As for preparing for his role, he found it “an interesting challenge to get into Geoffrey’s headspace. I’m an only child who has always received affection from my family so it was tough to imagine Geoffrey’s world where no matter what he does, someone else always gets the attention instead.”

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Kyle Herselman heightens the drama (PC: Marcel Beck)

“The Lion in Winter” will be Penny’s fourth production with Dubai Drama Group, which the city’s oldest theatre group at thirty-five years. “The cast is very collaborative, they made it easy for me to be honest with them and they’re really dedicated to getting it right,” said the director. “They aren’t afraid to say they don’t agree with me and they’ll come to me with suggestions — and I do take them if they’re good.”

“Everyone gets along, no one’s a diva and I am really gonna miss it when it’s done!” finished Sara. Cast-mate Kristian agreed, “I’ve loved every minute of being with my DDG cast. We bonded immediately.”

“Sara and I actually made up a whole backstory for our characters’ relationship; it’s not in the script,” shared Justin Cipriano, who even does push-ups before scenes to get into character as Prince Richard. “The play is based on the real Plantagenet family so it’s been very interesting to read into their lives.”

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Amiya Nagpal emotes convincingly (PC: Marcel Beck)

With regards to Dubai’s theatre scene at large, the entire cast is optimistic and discussed its growth over the last thirty years in terms of interested audience as well as the number of playhouses.

“There are more theatre groups, more opportunities and many more formats available to people — Courtyard is typically an improv theatre. What I would like to see now is having the Dubai theatre community focus on quality rather than quantity. It’s time to regroup and be reflective about our work. Let’s not talk about having double the number plays next year, let’s have better productions. Let’s be a little honest with ourselves and be a little critical of ourselves,” voiced Penny.

Amiya, who plays Princess Alais concludes, “There’s a lot of love, sex and power in this show and that’s what makes the world go round right? I’m excited for opening night. It felt like it was going to be ages away…and now it’s here!”

“The Lion in Winter” will be playing at The Courtyard Playhouse in Al Quoz 1, Dubai from November 22 – 24 2018. RSVP to attend here!

Until next time, keep exploring! xoxo #nikitalyfe ❤

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Lion in Winter full cast pic
It was such a pleasure chatting with you all! Break a leg for the show 🙂

Author: Nikita Taimni

A Dubai-based blogger, I write about travel, theatre and lifestyle in the cities I explore around the world. Follow me on Instagram @nikitalyfe and follow via email if you enjoy reading my posts!

3 thoughts

  1. Can’t wait to see “The Lion in Winter”! I love plays with a historical background & the English royality makes for the best stories!! Great work with the review Nikita… I’m really excited about going for this.

    Liked by 2 people

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