Queen Mab – The Actors’ Church, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Danielle Pearson

Director: Georgie Staight

Fairies, in various guises, have been deep rooted in British folklore since forever. Our modern view, however, has been largely shaped by Shakespeare and, to a lesser extent, JM Barrie.

Both source materials are plundered by Danielle Pearson for Queen Mab, the first play to be featured in Iris Theatre’s annual open air season of theatre in the grounds of St Paul’s church in Covent Garden.

The fairy of the title is that referenced by Mercutio in Act I of Romeo and Juliet. Dubbed “the fairy’s midwife”, Erica Flint’s Mab also oversees sleeping mortals, turning their greatest hopes into dreams and their greatest fears into nightmares. One night, she is seen by 15-year-old Freya (Jo Patmore) and the pair strike up an unlikely friendship.

Pearson’s script gives the centuries-old Mab a metre to her dialogue that implies her Shakespearean roots, which fades away as Freya introduces her to 21st century life and the glories of Swiss roll. Flint’s flute-playing fairy is a mercurial spirit, appropriate to her dealings with the extremes of the human psyche. She also betrays a deep-rooted sadness, detailing how she was exiled from the fairy world when, after becoming attached to a mortal called William Shakespeare, he turned her tales of her people into the fantastical plots of his film.

Freya is having her own problems, stuck with an annoying younger brother and parents whose relationship is under strain. And then the pandemic hits, and a family already struggling are put under even more pressure.

Patmore makes an impressive professional debut as she captures the spirit of a 15-year-old young woman well, confident and adult one second and then a self-doubting child on the turn of a sixpence. She also has the opportunity to showcase her singing voice – she had been due to compete in last year’s Sondheim Student Performer of the Year, so it is somehow appropriate that a lockdown-themed play compensates for that cancelled event.

As Freya struggles with her parents’ arguments – first about who gets the nice desk for Zoom calls, and then escalating to more serious concerns – the struggle of being the sensible one of the family begins to hit, and Pearson’s story of two loners, isolated from their community and finding companionship with each other, really shines.

Queen Mab uses the last year of lockdown to illuminate a story which is only superficially about teen angst and the follies of young love (Mab maintains thatRomeo & Julietis a warning against romance and everybody just reads it wrong, which is a truth not uttered enough). It is also a chronicle of finding oneself and being comfortable in one’s own skin. Whether human or fairy, it is a lesson for all of us, and this delightful play is as good a place as any to learn.

Continues until 26 June 2021

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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