5th Company Lane presents Christina, The Girl King

Director Paul Smith talks bringing production to Rotunda Theatre

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Credit: 
Tim Fort

Ending its four-day run, Christina, The Girl King told the story of one of history’s most unconventional monarchs’ struggle to serve her country while staying true to herself.

The play ran at the Rotunda Theatre in Theological Hall from Nov. 21 to 24.

Based on a true story, the play was written by Michel Marc Bouchard and translated by Linda Gaboriau. It takes place in Sweden in the middle of the seventeenthcentury as Christina, only in her early twenties at the time, led her people through the end of the Thirty Years’ War.

This rendition of the play was produced by 5th Company Lane with director Paul Smith (ArtSci ’20) at the helm. 

Christina, played by Mariel Calvo (ArtSci ’20), ascended to the role of Swedish monarch at six years old after her father died in battle, but because she was so young, she wasn’t able to make decisions for the country until she turned 18.                                                                

In accordance with her father’s wishes and to prepare her to be a good ruler, Christina was given an education that, at the time, was only offered to boys.

As a result, Christina became one of the most well-educated women of the seventeenth century.

When she was officially crowned in the play, she was given the title of king and not queen, mirroring the title the real monarch held in Sweden. Throughout her rule, Christina often found it difficult to reconcile her duty to her country with her then-radical beliefs on religion, marriage, and education.

What further complicated her rule in the play was the fact that she was a queer woman who fell in love with one of her ladies-in-waiting named Ebba, played by Meredith Sutherland (ArtSci ’21). 

She studied under the renowned philosopher René Descartes, played by José Andres Bordas (ArtSci ’20), who taught her his theory of dualism—which claims the mind and the body are separate. His ideas helped Christina to understand herself at a time when queer people were restricted in their self-expression. 

Director Paul Smith admires the play for the “homonormative” manner in which Christina’s queerness is portrayed.

“Although that’s a storyline that’s followed, Bouchard writes her as a hero, not as a queer hero. It shows that her queerness is something that influenced her, but it wasn’t the end-all, be-all thing about her,” Smith said in an interview.

Because of the way Bouchard wrote his protagonist, Smith wanted to honour Christina as the “powerful and enigmatic hero” she was. He didn’t want to reduce her to merely her sexual orientation.

The play explores what it was like for her to be caught at this intersection of identities, struggling to adjust to her two conflicting roles as both an individual and as a sovereign.

Oftentimes throughout the story, Christina finds her personal needs are at odds with the needs of her country.

For example, she faces tremendous pressure from her court and advisors to get married and produce a male heir. Agreeing to this would mean ignoring her feelings for Ebba and spending her life with someone she’s not sexually attracted to.

“One of the elements that the story talks a lot about is gender,” Smith said. “We look at the way that the men and the women are portrayed in this play and the way they’re treated differently as a reflection of the time period.” 

Smith affirmed that these themes of the power dynamic between men and women are still relevant today, given that Christina’s leadership qualities are ignored and she’s instead thought of as the mere body that will produce the next king of Sweden.

“The men are shown as having more freedom, having more choice, having more power,” Smith said.

Ironically, despite being the nation’s sovereign, Christina’s power is limited until the end of the play when she gives it up, deciding to pass her power to her male cousin.  

Smith believed this story would resonate with Queen’s students because, ultimately, Christina was a young woman in her twenties struggling to find balance between her identity and her responsibilities.

This is a universal experience—one that all young people can relate to, not just monarchs in the seventeenth century.   

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