Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – until 23 January 2016
Guest Reviewer: Simona Negretto
Commissioned by the RSC, Queen Anne is a new play by Helen Edmundson, directed by Natalie Abrahami in her debut season at Stratford-upon-Avon.
Little is known about Anne’s 12 year reign and Edmundson creates an intricate, intriguing and intelligent portrait of the Queen. She also captures a poignant observation upon the friendship between Anne and Sarah Churchill, later Duchess of Marlborough.
What emerges is a neatly written play that moves the audience from deep laughter to overwhelmed silence in the same scene. With its satirical ballads, its perfectly directed staging and, most of all, a witty and sharp text, Queen Anne shows a not-so-common ability to depict a credible and colourful image of the politics and human condition of the time.
Intriguingly, Edmundson also creates two of the fiercest female roles to have been seen on stage in some time. Her look at the development of Emma Cunniffe’s Anne and Natascha McElhone’s Sarah and of their friendship (and eventually of its end) is a moving and mesmerizing experience encompassing love, betrayal and sacrifice.
Cunniffe embodies suffering, both physical and emotional as her Anne is divided between her duties as Queen and her heart and feelings as friend, whilst McElhone’s Sarah offers a bewitching crescendo of emotions.
Jonathan Broadbent delivers a scheming Robert Harley, representing the emergent political world and providing a link between the Anne’s court and the outside world of the Inns of Court, Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift.
The production’s flamboyance – especially in the choral and satirical scenes – owes much to the creative vision of Movement Director Ann Yee.
Helen Edmundson has delivered a fascinating and gripping historical comment. Queen Anne proves to be a story that has needed to have been told and which demands to be seen.