Choreography & scenario: Cathy Marston
Music: Philip Feeney
Director: Cathy Marston
Reviewer: Edie Ranvier
This May marks two hundred years since the birth of Queen Victoria, and Northern Ballet is marking the anniversary with a touring production of Cathy Marston’s new ballet Victoria, which reimagines this most paradoxical of monarchs through the eyes of her youngest daughter Princess Beatrice.
Following her mother’s death, Beatrice (premier dancer Pippa Moore, marking a significant milestone herself in her final season with Northern Ballet) reads, transcribes and censors Victoria’s journals. The dancers bring to life the memories contained in their pages: in Act I of an older Victoria, querulous and dependent, the mother Beatrice remembers; and in Act II, as the princess delves deeper into the diaries, of a passionate young woman, learning the arts of sovereignty and embarking on a romance with her adored husband Prince Albert.
Scenes cluster on one another in a mixed-up, dreamlike chronology that would be hard to follow without the crutch of a programme. Beatrice reads and relives her widowed mother’s intense relationship with her ghillie John Brown (Mlindi Kulashe), who dances her round her palace in a series of athletic leaps with just a suggestion of a Highland fling, and finally persuades her to re-enter public life. Reading on, she finds the account of her own younger self (played by a charming Miki Akuta) and her courtship with “Liko”, Prince Henry of Battenberg (Sean Bates). Some of the most moving choreography of the ballet ensues, as “real” and “past” Beatrices dance with Bates in a tender trio to Philp Feeney’s piercing score, and the older Beatrice drapes herself protectively around the memory of her husband. But the happy trio gives way to an unhappy one, as a jealous Victoria (Abigail Prudames) intrudes on the dance, physically pulling on the young couple’s arms to cramp their movements, until the galled Liko rejoins the army where he dies. Watching her mother turn her younger self into a mini-me in lookalike widow’s garb, Moore expresses Beatrice’s rage and grief in a series of frantic and demented steps, ripping out the painful pages from the diary and flinging volume after volume to the floor.
Prudames as the older Victoria in this first act moves with an odd hunched clumsiness, constantly supported by her servants or her daughter. So her transformation in Act II from difficult old lady into feisty young girl and then glamorous queen is as striking as the costume change that switches her shield-like black dress for a sweeping white gown. Prudames brings both comedy and romance to her role: taunting her mother Victoire’s disliked faction with defiant flat-footed steps, then taking off (almost literally) in the arms of her mentor and prime minister Lord Melbourne (Riku Ito), who waltzes her through a sequence of superb lifts. But it is Albert (a towering Joseph Taylor) who really sweeps the diminutive queen off her feet, and their wedding night is setting up to be so steamy that their daughter, appalled, tears out the pages where it’s recorded – a very human moment that sets the audience laughing.
There’s humour, too, in the founding of their dynasty, which sees Victoria give birth punctually to nine successive princelings, while clocklike chimes infuse the music and Taylor steals her paperwork. But sadness succeeds, as his workload and growing family take their toll on Albert’s health; and when he dies, Prudames’ rendering of the queen’s prostration is beautiful and pitiable, and brings her reading daughter, only an infant at the time, to a closer understanding of her mother’s emotions.
It’s a witty, poignant and imaginative evocation of an intriguing chapter in British history, danced with feeling by an engaging cast and with moments of real power and pathos.
Runs until 13 April 2019 | Image: Contributed