Greater Manchester Fringe writer challenges nation’s ‘history crafted by men’

Imagine meeting Anne Boleyn, Mary Queen of Scots, Catherine Howard and Marie-Antoinette together in the afterlife. Unlikely?

Well, KT Parker brings this encounter to life in her debut play The Chamber of Beheaded Queens which is taking to the stage at the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival.

The play, first performed at Liverpool’s Page to Stage Festival in April, sees KT celebrating women because ‘the historical story of our country has been crafted by men’.

Even though it was written and directed by women and is acted out by five females, KT emphasised that the play is ‘still accessible to men’, ‘in the same way that women can enjoy a film or play with an all-male cast’.

“There is a lot of comedy in [The Chamber of Beheaded Queens] but it’s actually a drama because it’s touching on the theme of injustice, especially towards women,” said KT.

“I think in about 80% of the world there is still not much that is different.

“We’ve got a measure of enlightenment here but it’s not perfect.

We’re still paid 20% less than our male peers for doing the same job, possibly even doing better.

“But there are still civilisations, well I use the word loosely, where a woman could be beheaded for loving the wrong man.”

KT, whose real name is Kim, wrote the play last year and drew from her passion for history.

The Chamber of Beheaded Queens explores the relationship between Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots who are stuck there after their deaths.

“There are still unresolved issues at the beginning of the play and this is all about coming together and sharing experiences and letting go of the bitterness, to heal,” she said.

About Anne Boleyn, KT said: “It’s absolutely appalling when you go into the details [of her death].

“It’s sort of washed and made more bland through time, but he [Henry VIII] mounted a terrible smear campaign against Anne Boleyn who was accused of having sex with her own brother.

“She most likely did not commit adultery, and even if she had committed adultery that’s so disproportionate to cut her head off.”

The two characters are not on good terms until the arrival of Marie-Antoinette.

“She arrives in the Chamber of Beheaded Queens having just been executed in a state of post-traumatic stress,” KT explained.

“So I’d written this speech, but it wasn’t until I saw Jess [Huckerby, actor] do it that I realised how much emotion there was.

“It’s just a fantastic experience seeing people bring your words to life, but also bringing more to it.”

Catherine Howard is a surprise visitor to the Chamber and begs to be allowed to stay after being consigned to the Dungeon of Adulterers.

K.T explained: “Catherine Howard wasn’t a virgin when she married [Henry VIII], but it was because she was abused as a child.

“Historians argue about how old she was, but some say that she was beheaded at the age of 17.

“She was abused by a music teacher and by one of her cousins, men 15 to 20 years older than her.

“Today it would be statutory rape. But then, nobody did anything. But she lost her head because of it.”

“It’s all about giving them a better ending, that’s what I wanted to do.”

KT explained that, to celebrate the importance of women, she begins the play by making the characters act towards the stereotype given to them throughout history.

She said: “When Catherine Howard comes in and Marie-Antoinette arrives, those two incidents are a catalyst for releasing their true female essence.

“So, in the last part of the play, we see a softer feminine side of them, which is they’re more connected to motherhood and womanhood.”

KT, who currently lives in Paris due to ‘historical reasons’, still works in her day job as a strategy consultant but said she would love to write full-time.

“I’ve always written stories – when I was little I wanted to be the next Beatrix Potter,” she said.

“Then when I was 11 I re-wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream in proper English.

 “So that is something that has been fighting inside of me to go out.

“Because I’ve read a lot, I didn’t have to do any research, it was all there already in my mind.

“I might have checked a couple of little details on the internet, but I suppose it’s a culmination of everything I’ve ever learned about the Tudors and the Stuarts and the Bourbons.”

In 2015 KT won the period/historical feature-film category of the Final Draft’s screenwriting competition Big Break in the United States, but this play is her first.

“You sit there and you’re watching five wonderful actors up on stage, the director is in the wings, there is an audience there, and you think ‘my goodness, all of these people are here because I had an idea and I wrote it down’.

“That is an amazing feeling – it can become addictive!”

Adding to her workload, KT has also recently accepted the position as assistant producer to Richard III performed by the Combat Veteran Players, a group of former soldiers who have been injured in combat.

“It’s really extraordinary working with them,” she said.

“They did some scenes from the production for Prince Charles on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in Stratford at New Place, which was Shakespeare’s house for 19 years.

“So it’s been an extraordinary year for them, and it’s just really brilliant being part of it.”

Richard III is being performed at the Leicester Square Theatre on July 7.

The Chamber of Beheaded Queens is being staged at Chapter One Books, Lever Street, in the Northern Quarter from the 26 to 30 July as part of the Greater Manchester Fringe Festival.

The festival takes place between 1 and 31 July and involves at least 23 venues across the city hosting hundreds of shows and performances including dancing, magic, children’s shows, bands and stand up.

“Manchester Fringe Festival – I’ve got nothing but praise for the team, they’re absolutely brilliant,” she said.

“Everything that Debbie Manley [publicist for Greater Manchester Fringe Festival] does, she’s really creating a buzz around the festival and she’s so helpful because a lot of us don’t have experience of promoting a show – I’ve only done it once before this.”

Though KT has travelled a lot with her work and due to her love of art, this is the first time she will have visited the city.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what Manchester’s got to offer,” she said.

For more information, click here.

Image courtesy of KT Parker, with thanks.

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