Queen Anne – Theatre Royal, Haymarket

Writer: Helen Edmundson
Director: Natalie Abrahami
Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Fascination with monarchy and the frailties and frivolities of the ruling classes has never really gone out of fashion with the public. Watching a work such as Helen Edmundson’s Queen Anne reinforces the fact that politics, both high and low, has always been, to some degree, crude, rude, unseemly and scrappy.


Getting around any shimmer of splendour or pomp in the monarchy, this play determinedly strips the Queen, the King, Princes, Dukes and Duchesses and everyone else of their glamour and shows them as men and women – flawed and selfish with sores on their legs and dishonesty on their lips. It’s wonderfully done, allowing several well-drawn characters to shine individually and vividly.

Telling a story of the formation of a queen, from a woman unable to decide whether to get out of bed or not to one who will end wars and join England and Scotland for the first time – the play runs through court intrigue, politicking and scheming, the human forces behind wars and great movements of state. Beset by the manipulations of her friend Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (a great performance by Romala Garai as an unlikable, coldly-ambitions plotter), and on the other side from the Tory minister Robert Harley (a charismatic James Garnon, masking political will with charm and subtlety), she struggles to find her ruling path – this conflict being the force that drives such a successful and thrilling narrative.

There’s a temptation here to criticise the work for reducing these great international level shifts to the whims and passions of a small clique of powerful people, all of whom we can see in the play. It feels a little simplistic at times, and closes off the monarchy and court from the real world. However, this isn’t a documentary and the human insights and dramas that play out more than make up for this closeting.

Edmundson and Emma Cunniffe as the Queen herself (who turns in a fascinating character study) along with the rest of the cast and crew have created something that doesn’t exactly ignite the senses, but lights a smouldering fuse that threatens and occasionally sparks before fading back gently leaving a distinct scorch mark on the psyche.

There’s no great heroic moment, no flash and bang. But a powerful script, excellent performances (with unfortunately wandering Irish accents at times), fantastic musical interludes and superbly rendered costumes and set give light to a relatively unknown monarch which is a great novelty to be able to show on stage. Through its exploration of an expenses scandal, backbench pressure changing government policy, and parliamentary rivalry between two implacably opposed parties as well as the history and personal intrigue, there’s something for everyone.

Runs until 30 September 2017 | Image: Marc  Brenner

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