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Review of Queen Anne at Theatre Royal Haymarket

Romola Garai (Sarah, Duchess of Malborough) and Emma Cunniffe (Queen Anne) in Queen Anne. Credit Darren Bell
Romola Garai (Sarah, Duchess of Malborough) and Emma Cunniffe (Queen Anne) in Queen Anne. Credit Darren Bell

The accents are somewhat questionable in this production of Queen Anne. I wouldn’t exactly say the title character (Emma Cunniffe) speaks in ‘estuary English’, but it isn’t quite ‘the Queen’s English’ either.

Judging by the televised speeches at Christmas and the State Opening of Parliament, the current Queen, Elizabeth II, speaks with significantly more royal refinement. There are also certain domestic servants speaking with similar accents to their employers: I suppose there’s nothing wrong with a character being clearly understood on stage. As for Hywel Morgan’s Prince George, I will have to leave it to those more qualified than I am to state with authority as to how Danish his Danish accent truly is.

Unusually, the second half is not as good as the first, as events seem to slow down considerably. By the final scene, I couldn’t agree more with Her Majesty, icily cold towards Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (Romola Garai), stately repeating in reply to the Duchess’ dull and dreary wailing, “Whatever you have to say to me, you may put it in writing.” Sarah Churchill, for me, was portrayed as Lucifer turning into Satan, initially supportive of Anne but eventually turning devilish in her own lust for power and control. Her pointless anger left much of the audience at the performance I attended bemused, to say the least. Any sympathy she may have had is long gone come the end of the play, such was her vitriol and disrespect, not so much to ‘Anne, Queen of England, Scotland and Ireland’, but to Anne as a person, a human being, to whom at least common courtesy should have been afforded. I do wonder whether the actual Duchess of Marlborough would have gotten away with such remarks without being sent to the Tower, or at least barred from ever having an audience with the Queen again.

There are four songs included in proceedings, largely superfluous – I found myself waiting for them to hurry up and finish so the play proper could resume. That said, in a world where so many theatre productions choose to have recorded music, it’s a delight to have six musicians performing live, even if there are times in which they have little, if anything, to do. The production does well not to simply have music playing for the sake of it, or have music swelling at key dramatic moments as though this were a motion picture.

Jonathan Swift (Jonny Glynn) and Daniel Defoe (Carl Prekopp), who both had illustrious careers, are bizarrely reduced to self-righteous, anti-monarchist chauvinists who sit in the pub all day (and most of the night, for that matter), save for a brief scene where they distribute pamphlets. Much more could have been made of these characters – here, aside from Swift being able to direct Abigail Hill (Beth Park) to the whereabouts of Hill’s cousin, Sarah Churchill, in Act One Scene One, it wouldn’t have made any difference to proceedings if they had been cut from the play altogether.

The costumes are suitable for the period, and those with a keen interest in costume design in theatre will find much pleasure in seeing the various lords and ladies in their finery. Plot-wise, this production can be a little difficult to follow for those totally unfamiliar with Queen Anne’s reign; the show’s programme is worth perusing for both the uninitiated and those well-grounded in early eighteenth-century regal history. A punchline by Robert Harley, Speaker of the Commons (James Garnon) is repeated too often, and outlasts its welcome. Or does it? “Yes. No. Perhaps.

It all just seems to run out of steam before it’s reached its destination. There’s some wonderful, wonderful acting from Emma Cunniffe and, in supporting roles, Beth Park and Richard Hope, the latter as Lord Chancellor Sydney Godolphin, but goodness me, the 2 hours 45 minutes running time was too acutely felt.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

1702. William III is on the throne and England is on the verge of war.
Princess Anne is soon to become Queen, and her advisors vie for influence over the future monarch. Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, a close friend with whom Anne has an intensely personal relationship, begins to exert increasing pressure as she pursues her own designs on power.

Contending with deceit and blackmail, Anne must decide where her allegiances lie, and whether to sacrifice her closest relationships for the sake of the country.

Emma Cunniffe (The Crucible, Great Expectations) returns as Queen Anne and is joined by Romola Garai (Suffragette, The Hour) as Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough in Helen Edmundson’s (The Heresy of Love) gripping play that reveals the corruption and intrigue at the heart of the court. Queen Anne is directed by Natalie Abrahami (Happy Days) and plays for a strictly limited thirteen week season after a sold-out run at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.

@RSCQueenAnne / #RSCQueenAnne

Queen Anne
Theatre Royal Haymarket
18 Suffolk Street, London, SW1Y 4HT

 

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