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In Her Shoes: MiNDFOOD Presents Two Ladies

In Her Shoes: MiNDFOOD Presents Two Ladies

Just when you thought you’d seen the last of Melania Trump in the role of FirstLady, she’s back for one last hurrah in Auckland Theatre Company’s first production for 2021.

In Her Shoes: MiNDFOOD Presents Two Ladies

While the character in Two Ladies doesn’t share the First Lady’s name, it’s clearly implied in the script that the part is based on her. “The Eastern European wife of the American president – you’re like ‘Hmm… hold on a second,’” says Anna Jullienne, who will be making her return to the stage as First Lady ‘Sophia’.

Joining her is Jennifer Ward-Lealand as ‘Hélène’, the more mature wife of the French president. Two Ladies, by award-winning Irish playwright Nancy Harris, imagines what would happen if the first ladies of France and the United States found themselves alone together while their husbands clashed over how to deal with an international crisis. Harris was inspired to write the play after seeing footage of Donald Trump meeting with Emmanuel Macron during the former’s first official visit to France. “The media were really focused on the men and I couldn’t take my eyes off the two women on either side,” says Harris.“There was something awkward about them and they were standing there as the men were doing this hand shaking and all I could really think was, ‘What do these women say to each other when doors close? And what are they making of their husbands?’”

Ward-Lealand and Jullienne on set 

Finding Inspiration for Two Ladies 

The characters do have a few traits that differ to the real-life inspiration, but both Ward-Lealand and Jullienne say they are looking to Macron and Trump in their preparation for the roles. “I have watched quite a few videos of
Melania and she’s not a natural in front of the camera,” says Jullienne. “She’s quite reserved and held back and contained to the point where it’s sort of perceived as rude, but I don’t think that’s her intention. It’s just a cooler
way, which is different from my way, so that’s something I’ll have to be conscious of.” Ward-Lealand is reading up on Macron’s marriage to gain some insight into the older wife/younger husband dynamic, but will also include shades of other first ladies from history. “I think the character I’m playing has more political aspirations than someone like Brigitte Macron does, or aspirations to be more than the gracious hostess,” she explains.

“I think it’s immensely frustrating for her to not be in ‘the room where it happens’, to quote [Lin-Manuel Miranda musical] Hamilton.” Ward-Lealand finds the concept of the ‘first lady’ fascinating, saying it seems like an “unenviable” role. “You’d have to walk this fine line of being the perfect spouse, the gracious hostess, but not be involved in any politicking.” The play also offers an intriguing exploration of women who are so close to power and yet simultaneously so removed from it. “That sense of their power being thwarted is such an interesting dynamic to examine in the play – they don’t get in the room, so what can they do? That becomes the question. If they can’t be in the room and effect change in that way, how can they use their roles to effect change?”

Two Ladies is billed as a “fiendishly fashionable tour de force”, and clothing plays more than a passing role in the production. For the wives of presidents living in the public eye, image is everything – as Ward-Lealand notes,“Nothing is accidental in the way that they put themselves together”. That reality is addressed with the play’s costumes styled by Lucy Jane Senior. As a fashion stylist who cut her teeth on New York photo shoots, Senior is ideally suited toTwo Ladies. “I love that fashion often gets grouped with the vapid and the silly stuff but yet there are these messages and it ignites conversations,” says Senior. “And despite how powerful the woman, it always comes down to their fashion, doesn’t it? These two first ladies, they basically are informal advisers to the most powerful men in their countries and they inevitably get reduced to what they’re wearing.”

Senior loves that she can be fashion-forward in her costume design for this production thanks to the women she is taking inspiration from being “very, very stylish”, and the actors who she gets to dress being“clothes horses”. She has been particularly looking forward to exploring the classic aesthetic ofFrench style for Ward-Lealand’s costumes. “That whole French way of dressing is fascinating to me being anAmerican, but I imagine it’s fascinating to anyone who is not French because of the ‘je ne sais quoi’ factor – unless you are from that world it’s not achievable, and I love that. It’s such a sought-after, elusive, mysterious way of dressing.”Senior had the perfect pop culture reference in the Patricia Field-styledNetflix show,Emily in Paris. The character of Sylvie (PhilippineLeroy-Beaulieu), the intimidating boss at the French marketing firm where title character Emily works, was a particular source of inspiration. “She isa fantastic reference for what I hope to bring for Jennifer to flick through on her garment rack; just really understated, but over sexualised –exactly how Brigitte Macron dresses.”

Stylist’s Dream

As for referring to the American first lady’s dress style, Senior says it’s a“stylist’s dream”, and she has looked to both Trump’s high-fashion ensembles as well as some of her more cringe-worthy sartorial moments.“She certainly has a signature silhouette, and that silhouette is sharp, it’s formal, it’s reserved and it’s rigorously tailored,” she says. “Who wouldn’t want to have the budgets to buy those exorbitantly expensive beautifully tailored clothes?” A key
part of the costume design process for Senior is discovering how the actors see the characters and the physicality they bring to them.

“Actors make your work so much better than you ever thought it could be. They’ll come in the rehearsal room in their sweatpants, and then they’ll put on what you’ve given them and all of a sudden they just turn it on, and it’s really remarkable the craft that they bring to it. I really appreciate it – it makes me look better and it makes my work look better.”

Both Jullienne and Ward-Lealand say the costuming will greatly impact their performances in the production. “A first lady is dressed in a really specific way, and the physicality of that will really colour the character,” says
Jullienne. “It’s little components that make up who that character is, how she would physically be and her mannerisms and the way she sits – that’s all so tied in with the costume.”

Ward-Lealand says even donning the suit she wore for the play’s promotional photoshoot helped her settle into the role. “It was really smart and tailored, a beautiful piece of stylish armour, it gave me a taste of the character,” she
says. “I’ll wear something like that to rehearsals, because it changes your carriage, it changes your gait. These women are used to being in the public eye all the time, being commented on all the time. Everybody is there to pick over everything they’re wearing, the way their hair is, what their accessories are, so all of those things are going to be so important.”

Stylish costumes aside, audiences will also have a gripping plot and biting dialogue to look forward to. “There is a lot of bantering between Jennifer’s character and mine, like a tennis game of words,” says Jullienne. “There are some very arch and funny lines, so it’s my kind of play to do. I like walking that fine line between comedy and drama, particularly black comedy,” says Ward-Lealand. “I think it will be really entertaining.”

MiNDFOOD Presents Two Ladies

9 – 27 February, 2021 ASB Waterfront Theatre, Auckland

5 – 6 March Clarence St Theatre in Hamilton

12 – 13 March Baycourt Community & Arts Centre in Tauranga

20-21 March New Plymouth’s TSB Showplace

28 March Toitoi Hawke’s Bay Arts and Events Centre in Hastings

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