The play begins in the years preceding Princess Anne’s ascension to the throne in 1702. Meek, ill-educated and sickly – enduring seventeen failed pregnancies, agonizing arthritic attacks and severe gout – Anne cuts a pitiful character. With her weakness and naivety paramount topics of discussion in court, the courtiers vie for influence and power. The driving force of the pressure comes from Anne's much loved and trusted confidante, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough.
The demise of the once passionate, symbiotic relationship between Anne and Sarah, or 'Mrs Morley' and ‘Mrs Freeman’ – as they refer to each other respectively throughout the play – is the driving force of the narrative. But it's Sarah’s scheming, Whig-centric plans to further her own political power, her duplicitousness and her ultimate ousting from court that sustains intrigue.
Add a little financial turmoil into the mix – the nation’s coffers came under huge strain during the War of Spanish Succession – intermittent bouts of satirical song, masterminded by the overboozed members of a bawdy drinking club in the Inns of Court, and a Whig-Tory battle for royal favour, and you have a surprisingly thrilling story on your hands.
Emma Cunniffe traces Queen Anne's trajectory from a pitiful childless Princess to supreme ‘mother to a nation’ with great poignancy. Her weedy, warbling voice irritates throughout, but the poise with which she portrays the queen’s resolve following her faux-friend's betrayal, unveils the inner strength of this historically relegated figure.
After impressive stage work at the Royal Court and Young Vic, Romola Garai (Atonement, The Hour, The Crimson Petal and the White) returns to theatre as the Duchess. Garai is the star of the show. Indeed Queen Anne is worth the West End price tag for her performance alone. In the final scene, Garai harmoniously unifies cloying panic and stead-fast resolve in a cathartic outburst matched only by the greatest of Shakespeare's pathetic heroes.
While producers have taken a risk transferring this intricate historical drama about a little-known queen from Stratford-upon-Avon to the West End for a 13-week run this summer, it has more than paid off. This seldom-told historical period is brought to life by new talent and a compelling story of power and courtly machinations.
|What||Queen Anne, Theatre Royal Haymarket review|
|Where||Theatre Royal Haymarket, 18 Suffolk Street, London, SW1Y 4HT | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Piccadilly Circus (underground)|
30 Jun 17 – 30 Sep 17, 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£15 – £95|
|Website||Tickets on sale now|