Choreography, Direction & Scenario: Cathy Marston
Dramaturgy & Scenario: Uzma Hameed
Music: Philip Feeney
Reviewer: Beverley Haigh
Queen Victoria is most notably recognised as an iconic elderly lady who spent most of her life in mourning for her late husband Albert. Previously the longest-serving monarch in British history until Elizabeth II stole her great-great-grandmother’s crown in 2015. In celebration of the 200th anniversary of her birth, Northern Ballet’s Victoria portrays a lesser known version of Queen Victoria and her life events, primarily from the perspective of the queen’s youngest daughter, Beatrice.
Inspired by the writings in the 122 volumes of Victoria’s personal diary, which were edited and transcribed by Beatrice herself, ‘losing’ approximately 11 books worth of writing along the way, the character symbolically tears pages from a diary. Having only known her as a ‘gloomy and demanding widow’ Beatrice was chosen as her mother’s companion and through reading the diaries Beatrice becomes acquainted with the woman her mother once was.
Although based on historical subject matter, Cathy Marston’s depiction and treatment of it is starkly contemporary, as is her signature style (The Suit, which she choreographed for Ballet Black and Jane Eyre also for Northern Ballet). The setting is kept minimal: walls of books, the diaries of Victoria’s life are consistently removed and brought on and off stage by ‘Red People’ (Marston’s modern-day version of a corps de ballet) until they are all gone and left to reveal the leaded windows of the royal palace.
Following a slightly slow start, the pace picks up with the arrival of the powerful and athletic Mlindi Kulashe as Albert’s faithful servant, credited as the person responsible for reintroducing the stoic heroine to life again and encouraging her to come out of mourning. The narrative is skilfully edited by Marston and fellow dramaturg Uzma Hameed to the most relevant excerpts of Victoria’s life, ensuring that the piece never drags. Switching between the past and the present without any chronological order, Beatrice pieces together a life that she never knew before finally making peace with and forgiving her mother, united in grief.
Pippa Moore is perfectly cast as the older Beatrice, who shadows and mirrors the younger Beatrice (Miki Akuta) as she recalls her own personal memories. Meeting her husband-to-be, Liko (Sean Bates) and finally receiving approval from her mother produces the most wonderful scenes. A pas de deux played out by both the characters of Beatrice and Liko is one of the most satisfying scenes of the first act. Pippa Moore demonstrates a range of powerful emotions, particularly when she complies with the constraints of the black mourning dress akin to that of her mother, as if being forced into a straitjacket.
Abigail Prudames embodies the character of Victoria and is truly majestic in her portrayal of the heartbroken queen. When she is finally stripped of the black dress, she emerges serene and swanlike as the reluctant young monarch. The deep affection between her and Albert is instantly recognisable, from the seductive scenes on their wedding night (pages which Beatrice chooses to remove from the diary) to the intensity as the pressure of the roles and responsibility is ultimately felt by the couple. Maps of Europe are scrutinised as Albert takes a lead role in ruling the country whilst Victoria takes more of a back seat to become a wife and mother: children continue to be born, chaos ensues, pressure mounts, culminating in the death of Victoria’s beloved Albert in powerful scenes of tragedy. Again, Abigail Prudames is magnificent and resembles a dying swan in her grief.
The tragedy of the past cannot be rewritten but Northern Ballet constructs a worthy and enduring retelling of it.
Touring nationwide | Image: Emma Kauldhar