Queen Anne (RSC, Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Queen Anne-

 

Helen Edmundson’s dramatization of the reign of Queen Anne was absorbing. The perils of historical drama and novels are known. The need to convey context can lead to preachy speeches by characters early in the action. Queen Anne was not entirely free of such moments but they were few. Instead Edmundson opted to pivot the action on the relationship between two women: the unassertive Anne who learns to impose her will and the glamorous and clever Sarah (Duchess of Marlborough) whose judgement is not equal to her wits. This is historical travesty for the whole period trembled on the brink of dynastic and revolutionary change. Anne’s grandfather was publicly executed in 1649; she and her sister had colluded to depose their father from the throne and seize it; the threat of being toppled by the rightful (and Catholic) dynasty was constant. But the Anne-Sarah relationship is a marvellous way to navigate the labyrinth of early 18th century politics. Emma Cunliffe and Romola Garai compel as the principals with the men – Marlborough, Godolphin , Harley and the rest – reduced to secondary characters preoccupied with their wars, finance and politics. Natalie Abrahami directs a feminist’s revenge that displays capable women railing against their fate as childbearers and wielders of influence instead of power.

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