Theatre Royal Haymarket, London – until 30 September 2017
A MODERN WORLD GROWING, BENEATH THE PERIWIGS … I saw Helen Edmundson’s marvellous RSC history-play about Anne’s short reign some eighteen months ago; my conclusion then – a gurgle of pleasure and interest, background sketched in, and five mice-worth concluding with a plea for a transfer.
So here it is: some cast changes to note, though all more than up to standard. Natalie Abrahami’s cast again centres on Emma Cunniffe’s Anne, touchingly needy then increasingly determined, a woman of sorrows growing into wisdom and a matriarchal affection for the people tormented by war and poverty. Romola Garai becomes the schemingly glamorous Sarah Churchill, Chu Omanbala the great, flawed General Churchill, and Jonny Glynn Swift leading the tavern mob. Hywel Morgan takes over as the endearingly hopeless Prince George, but Carl Prekopp is back as Defoe, and Beth Park reprises her role as the strong, plain, skinny, scornful and decent Abigail.
But I return to it fascinated, because it feels different, stronger even, on this second viewing – in the capital, and in a country which since the first production has become more startlingly riven and confused. Although the personal relationships and court struggles are as fascinating, and the riotous satirical interludes among tavern wags still make our own satirists seem restrainedly wet, I found that the politics resonated far more strongly.
Wars in Europe, plotters and spinners surrounding power, uneasy alliances and a borderline superstitious horror of religious fanatics at the door (Catholics in this case). There is even a stock market crash scare, and a looming budget deficit, and peculation and bribery in high places, and a tendency in a male hierarchy to feel suspicious and thwarted at any display of “rampant femininity”. Edmundson’s delicate rhythm and powerful bursts of monosyllable (“What mean the Scots? What irks them now?”) are as fresh and sharp as ever. Seek out the bargains. Don’t miss it.
Box Office 020 7930 8800 trh.co.uk to 30 September
rating: still five