Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 19 November 2015 to 23 January 2016
Caught in yet another dramatic phase of Britain’s religiously warring royal history, harassed by a fate of 17 continuous miscarriages, Anne ascended to the throne as a rather unlikely contender. Her right to succession and her suitedness were contestable, but she turned out to be England’s lucky card.
Helen Edmundson’s new play about the last ruler of the House of Stuart before the Hanoverians took over, sheds an intimate light on a lesser known wedge of political drama.
Central to the play is the relationship between Anne and her longtime favourite Sarah Churchill.
Sarah, ice-cold and cunning, uses the Queen’s affection for her own and her husband’s, the famous commander John Churchill’s ambition.
Natascha McElhone’s Sarah is a controlling, dangerous powerhouse and seems to strew icicles in her path – only when with her husband (Robert Cavanah) and son (Elliott Ross), she switches on a measure of human warmth.
Diametrically opposed to her, we find Emma Cunniffe’s Queen Anne. Her portrayal of the journey from being one unhappy dysfunctional incubator not fulfilling her only job of producing protestant heirs, to a still suffering but resolute and caring mother of her subjects is drawn with such tenderness and empathy that one cannot not be magnetised into her emotional struggle.
In a smaller role, but just as heart-warming, Hywel Morgan’s Prince George of Denmark, Anne’s husband. His boyish charm, underscored by a lovely Danish accent come over as the consolation poor Anne deserved. Their chemistry is amazing.
In parliament, these are the times of the first massive party machinations between Whigs and Tories. The Churchills, together with Sydney Godolphin, the Lord Chancellor (Richard Hope, showing him as dignified and amiable) stand for the Whig faction, whilst Robert Harley, Leader of the Commons, keeps trying to maintain a balance.
This latter part is filled with much latent irony by Jonathan Broadbent. His catchphrase “Yes, no, maybe …” ends up being expected impatiently and each time harvests a round of laughs.
In another likeable role, Beth Parks plays Abigail Hill who starts off as a humble chamber maid and in time earns the Queen’s trust – a neat and lovely performance.
Political satire had a first heyday in this era, three of its protagonists, Jonathan Swift (Tom Turner), Daniel Defoe (Carl Prekopp) and Arthur Maynwaring (Jonathan Christie) complement the production with a hint of carnival and daring lightness voiced in raucous insolent songs.
Directed by Natalie Abrahami, Queen Anne is a glorious way to end an RSC year – but also to start a new one, as it runs through to 23 January.
Daisy Ashford (Lady Clarendon); Jonathan Broadbent (Robert Harley); Robert Cavanah (John Churchill); Jonathan Christie (Arthur Maynwaring); Emma Cunniffe (Queen Anne); Daniel Easton (Colonel Masham); Michael Fenton Stevens (Dr John Radcliffe); Richard Hope (Sidney Godolphin) ; Natascha McElhone (Sarah Churchill); Hywel Morgan (Prince George of Denmark); Beth Park (Abigail Hill); Carl Prekopp (Defoe/William III); Jenny Rainsford (Jezebel/Lady-in-Waiting); Elliott Ross (Jack Churchill); Anna Tierney (Lady Somerset); Tom Turner (Jonathan Swift); Ragevan Vasan (Groom).
Director Natalie Abrahami design Hannah Clark; lighting Charles Balfour; music & sound Ben and Max Ringham; movement Ann Yee; video Will Duke
Photos by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC
This blog has also been published in German, under https://artyviews.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/queen-anne-die-ueberraschende-koenigin/