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The Sea Queen at The Scoop – London’s Free Open Air Theatre

Feyesa Wakjira as Aderfi Tim Bowie as Conor Stephanie MacGaraidh as Grainne George Caporn as Donal and Heidi Lynch as Sean in TSQ
Feyesa Wakjira as Aderfi Tim Bowie as Conor Stephanie MacGaraidh as Grainne George Caporn as Donal and Heidi Lynch as Sean in The Sea Queen.

There aren’t many more pleasant ways to spend an hour, in my view, than watching some al fresco theatre, when the sun shining, with a cooling breeze, on the vibrant South Bank of the Thames next to Tower Bridge. Overlooked on one side by the shimmering Shard and on the other by the amusingly lop-sided, apparently drunken, City Hall – a kind of portly leaning tower of Pisa – The Scoop is literally scooped out of the concrete to provide a charming and individual venue.

Of course, one needs a charming and individual show to go with it and that’s exactly what we get with The Sea Queen, a colourful children’s musical which is all action and heart. The pile of tin chests and the ropes and the rigging and the cutlasses and – whisper it quietly – the imposing gibbet all give clues as to the subject matter here: yes, it’s a pirate show. A pirate show with songs. A pirate show with a twist.

I don’t think I’m giving much away to tell you that the twist is that the pirate captain is female – well after all there’s a clue in the title. Stephanie MacGaraidh takes on the role of Grainne (pronounced gron-yah) O’Malley
and what a live-wire she is. The show is based on the actual story of Grainne (1530-1603) who as a sea captain dominated the water off the west coast of Ireland for many years and became known as the Pirate Sea Queen.

MacGaraidh gives the role the kind of impetuous oomph that we would expect from a charismatic buccaneer whose life is defined by gang-planks and raids and pillaging and ships being scuttled. There must have been a fair number of summary executions along the way but these are conveniently brushed under the carpet because, hey, it’s a kids show. MacGaraidh has a strong resonant voice and she does full commanding justice to the wonderful collection of Irish folk song-inspired melodies composed by Matthew Bugg with lyrics by Bugg and director Rae Mcken. She is well-supported by the cast of ten and although not all the soloists can reach MacGaraidh’s splendid heights the ensemble numbers are delightfully performed. Mcken’s direction is bold and engaging with the audience, particularly the young part of it, completely engrossed.

The denouement sees a face-off between Grainne and Queen Elizabeth 1, played with authority and just the right amount of amused benevolence by Veronica Beatrice Lewis, strutting majestically around the stage, as she does, in full kirtle and high-ruff.

Altogether it’s an exciting and absorbing show that kids will relish and those of us adults who secretly have a weak spot for a bit of piracy will also enjoy. Fight Director Dan Styles does a great job with the close-range cutlass combat and special mention must go to Sound Operator Zoe Burnham: handling ten radio mikes – outside – is no mean feat and we had near perfect balance in the windy conditions. The show is paired at The Scoop with an adaptation of Twelfth Night by the same company of actors, produced by Iris Theatre, and it’s part of London’s Free Open Air Theatre Season. If you – and your children – like a bit of sea-borne adventure and are suckers for a slice of swashbuckle then do get along to The Scoop and revel in The Sea Queen!

4 stars

Review by Peter Yates

Join Grainne O’Malley; pirate, chieftain and Irish queen of the seas, as she sets sail on her greatest adventure yet. Her family are prisoners, held in the dark dungeons of Dublin Castle by the evil Sir Richard Bingham. To save their lives she must embark for London, overcoming storms, buccaneers, and mutiny, before finally facing her implacable foe; England’s Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I. Based on the true story of Ireland’s legendary 16th century heroine, this voyage is for anyone who has dreamed of an ocean adventure. Come dance a jig, sing a sea shanty and live the life of a sea queen. Written by Daniel Winder.

Cast: Tim Bowie, George Caporn, Melanie Gleeson, Acushla-Tara Kupe, Veronica Beatrice Lewis, Heidi Lynch, Stephanie MacGaraidh, Lorenzo Martelli, Itoya Osagiede, Feyesa Wakjira.
Creative team: Director: Rae McKen. Set & Costume Design: Mayou Trikerioti. Sound Design: Matthew Bugg.

8th August- 1st September 2019


  • Peter Yates

    Peter has a long involvement in the theatrical world as playwright, producer, director and designer. His theatre company Random Cactus has taken many shows to the Edinburgh Fringe, the London Fringe and elsewhere and he has been associated with the Wireless Theatre Company since its inception where his short play Lie Detector can be heard: Wireless Theatre Company.

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