Queen Victoria has graced our TV sets each Sunday night for weeks now. This half decent televised venture into the monarch’s life has some interesting bits, but how would she fare on the stage and, more specifically, ballet?
Northern Ballet on tour has given us some brilliant material these past few years. The remarkable Casanova, the stirring Great Gatsby and even Jane Eyre have been of note. Eyre Choreographer Cathy Marston returns to bring the queen to the stage. The atmosphere is just right at the opening, with the elder Vic lamenting her lost love Albert, with her daughter Beatrice reading her memoirs. As she dies her children surround her and, through Beatrice’s reading, we see a whistle stop tour of fragments of her life.
The dance work and dancers are impressive as always, yet somehow it just doesn’t all add up. Maybe it’s the over familiarity with the story or the expectation of what a new ballet can offer us, but I found myself not caring at all for Queen Vic and her exploits. There is random scene of multiple child births: the growing brood gets a geography lesson which makes for a welcome dose of humour, as most of the time we are dwelling in black, gothic interior and widow’s weeds. The dancing has that frantic, highly gesticulated grace which Marston has formulated before. Some hand gestures appear to hark back to Casanova and his own literary ventures, leading to a great conclusion of embracing one’s fate through your art.
Vic here is Abigail Prudames, no mean feat for any dancer. This is an intense role, which rarely goes off stage, the performance here is stern and rigid like the monarch herself. Some moments of joy are forthcoming, as she gets to know Albert and their famous relationship blossoms. Prince Albert is played by Joseph Taylor, though lacking a moustache I should point out. This is a less interesting role, as the spotlight is very much on Victoria, though some phrasing is at times absorbing. Taylor makes the most of the role, including a steamy wedding night scene leaving most sweating! His physical feats are proving in some moments, with pent up rage over his role, keen to be the best royal he can be.
The older Beatrice is taken on by Pippa Moore, who does not really get a lot to do, becoming part of the furniture. Seen just reading the memories of her mother, we see the story through her eyes yet nothing is really done with his time travel through the pages. A rousing supporting ensemble have proven their worth in previous shows, here not always as fascinating nor compelling in their movements. There is power here and subtleties when needed from the troupe, though a giant silk curtain frequently fluttering across the stage is distracting and not needed, acts as their cue for scene change. A lack of contrast is also a flaw of the show, focusing on far too much dark, with little of essential light.
The music of Philip Feeney is quite right. A good amount of dense, harshness (though more would have been welcome) along with a more accessible pull. The second act may at times sound like mock Mendelssohn, attempts in sounding like the music of the era, but at times it can feel like filler.
This is a show which sadly won’t reign supreme.
Unsure? See for yourself.
Photo Credit: Zoe Martin