Stratford Upon Avon
QUEEN ANNE: Helen Edmundson
RSC: The Swan
Runs: 2h 50m, on interval, to 23 01 16
Tkts: 0844 800 1110
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 09 12 15
Serious, fun, a great delight.
Helen Edmundson’s splendid play triumphs in three ways. It informs us about a period in history many of us know little about, it’s theatrical, dramatic and often witty, and it also shows the power and strength many women in history had.
Queen Anne acceded to the throne on the death of William III (he of WilliamandMary) who had overthrown (by invitation) James II, Anne and Mary’s father, because he had converted to Catholicism. Anne became queen at a time when the country was embroiled in a long and costly war.
We see Anne come to the throne, the apparent puppet of Sarah Churchill (Duchess of Marlborough). Churchill is either a scheming bitch after personal political influence or is a woman actively campaigning to save the country from the threat of Catholicism. However, Anne proves herself to be her own woman and is either as devious as those around her or is a strong monarch striving for compromise among warring factions and peace.
Edmundson has created a multi-layered play for she sets her main story within the framework of the new air of freedom of expression. We see Swift and his circle commenting on the political goings-on in the public interest or possibly viciously attaching public figures for cheap laughs. The Swiftian revue episodes are a source of raucous delight.
It will be seen that QUEEN ANNE asks more questions than offers answers and is all the richer and more exciting for it. Contemporary parallels abound.
Natalie Abraham directs with intelligence and flair. There is a sense too that director and entire company revel in their performance, and the excitement is infectious.
Emma Cunniffe sensitively and elegantly shapes her portrayal, from the weak, rather dislikeable Princess to a Queen of dignity and quiet authority. Natascha McElhone is splendid as Sarah Churchill, driving the story along with her manipulative energy. Her fall is swift and we delight in it, as we do in the sting she gives to the play’s tail. Beth Park as Abigail Hill offers us a steady character, about as inscrutable as you can imagine, but you suspect she’s consciously giving as good as she gets.
Jonathan Broadbent gives us the Leader of the Commons, Robert Harley, another character who is effortlessly duplicitous . . . ‘Yes. No. Perhaps’ an insightful catch-phrase.
This really is lovely drama, a play in which you can never be sure who is telling the truth, who is being economical with it, and who is plain lying. It’s such serious fun.