Queen Anne is alive

QUEEN ANNE

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 9th December, 2015

 

Helen Edmundson’s new play is her best yet. A five-act history following the Shakespearean model, it tells the story of the accession to the throne of Anne Stuart and deal with a large part of her reign. That’s the backbone of the piece but really it’s about the relationship between two women: Anne and her friend since childhood, Sarah Churchill. It becomes apparent to us, far sooner than it does to the Queen, that Sarah is manipulating the monarch for her own ends and advancement and does not requite Anne’s affection – it is strongly suggested that Anne’s affection runs to lesbianism or ‘rampant femininity’ as somebody calls it.

Emma Cunniffe is an arresting presence as dowdy Anne, with a gammy leg and apparent weakness. She’s a washed-up Richard III, without of course the Machiavellian tendencies. We feel sympathy for her and also a desire to get out of our seats and shake her until she sees what’s happening under beneath the Royal hooter. Natascha McElhone cuts a glamorous figure in comparison as the conniving Churchill, commanding, strident and shrill – you wouldn’t want to cross her.

There is a touch of Yes, Minister to proceedings as courtiers and advisors jockey for position and favour. Jonathan Broadbent’s smarmy, toadying Harley is on the make, in an enjoyable performance, while Richard Hope’s decent and upright Godolphin is the moral rudder, without whom Anne runs adrift. A cameo by Carl Prekopp as King William III leaves an impression – the playing is as loud as the costumes – and Michael Fenton Stevens is a lot of fun as Dr Radcliffe. I also like Tom Turner’s Jonathan Swift, with his Brian May wig and his soft Irish burr.

The play also charts the rise of Abigail Hill (an excellent Beth Park) from destitution to Queen’s confidant (and carrier of the chamberpot). It’s a story where the personal and the political are very much intertwined – inseparable, in fact – and it’s something of a history lesson too without being didactic in the slightest. It closes with Anne’s final rejection of Sarah, having seen the light, leaving her erstwhile friend languishing in delusion.

Enlivened by ribald songs, bawdily presented, enriched by lively characterisations and witty dialogue, expertly performed, Natalie Abrahami’s production is a gripping, entertaining and satisfying look at the early years of the eighteenth century – with, of course, inescapable mirroring of our current situation, as the UK considers yet again the costs and profits (if there can be any) of war.

Queen_Anne_production_photos_2015_2015_Photo_by_Manuel_Harlan_c_RSC_180042

Playing into her hands: Anne (Emma Cunliffe) and Sarah (Natascha McElhone) Photo: Manuel Harlan

 

Advertisements

About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic http://williamstaffordnovelist.wordpress.com/ http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B008AD0YGO and Actor - I can often be found walking the streets of Stratford upon Avon in the guise of the Bard! View all posts by williamstafford

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: