Monday, 8 April 2019

Another Look at Victoira

Author: Rasiel Suarez
Licence Creative Commons Attribution-Share
Alike 3.0 Unported
Source Wikipedia Queen Victoria 

Northern Ballet Victoria 6 April 2019 Curve, Leicester

"How different, how very different, from the home life of our own dear Queen!"  The Oxford Essential Quotations attributes that remark to A Laugh A Day Keeps the Doctor Away by the American humorist, Irvin S Cobb which was published in 1924.  It is said to have been overheard at a performance of Antony and Cleopatra in which Sarah Bernhardt played Cleopatra.

The conversation is probably apocryphal but the reason why the quotation is remembered is that the home life of Queen Victoria was unremarkable.  Of course, there was sex.  How could it be otherwise with 9 children? But it was almost certainly within marriage notwithstanding speculation over her relationships with John Brown and Abdul Karim.  Queen Victoria gave her name to an age of momentous cultural, economic, political, scientific, social and technological change throughout the world but, as a constitutional monarch, she had very little to do with any of that.

According to "Creating Victoria" in the programme the idea of a ballet about Queen Victoria was David Nixon's.  He asked Cathy Marston whether she would be interested in making such a work, Evidently, someone mentioned the TV series for Marsrion spent part of a weekend watching a recording of the series before deciding to accept.

To make a full-length ballet about a home life that is a byword for respectability and normality must have been something of a challenge. Marston responded to that challenge by selecting incidents from the queen's life that she had recorded in her diary.  Those incidents were presented not as they had happened but as they had been perceived by Princess Beatrice upon reading her mother's diary for the first time. An impression was given that some of those incidents bordered on the scandalous for there were for there were several scenes where Beatrice tore pages from the diary.

On the whole, I think Marston's approach worked well, particularly in the second act.  There were moments of great beauty such as the passionate duet of the queen and prince consort towards the end. There were also some comic moments such as the childbirth scenes with Mlindi Kulashe delivering baby after baby.  Some of the scenes in the first act were still lost me even though I had seen them before and had read and digested the synopsis.  Someone - I could not work out who it was - drew a revolver and shot John Brown. I could find no reference to that in the synopsis.  It certainly did not happen in real life for Brown died in his bed in Windsor.  I had a vague recollection from my criminal law studied that Queen Victoria survived an assassination attempt because it was from that incident that we have got the M'Naghten rules but it seems to have nothing to so with that. I concluded that the assassination must have been an analogue for character assassination. There were several other analogues in the piece such as the ritual kissing of the queen's feet.

The cast I saw in Leicester was almost the same as the one I saw in Leeds (see A Great Send-off for a Great Lady 17 March 2019).  Abigail Prudames was the queen, Joseph Taylor the prince consort, Pippa Moore was Beatrice and Kulashe doubled as John Brown as well as an obstetrician.  All the cast danced well but I particularly enjoyed their interaction with a curious piece of furniture that I can best describe as a Victorian round sofa and their tussle over the red dispatch boxes.  Everybody in the show danced well and it would be unjust for me to select any for special praise,

Steffen Aarfing's set worked well.  A semicircular structure doubled as a gallery in a palace and the stacks of a library.   I am not quite so satisfied with the costumes.  The queen's white gown with its blue sash was effective. The red and cream costumes of the corps were less so.  Philip Feeney's score was pleasant enough. It was said to be derived from the music of the period.   I am sure that must be so but I struggle to remember a note of it even though I have heard it twice.

Though the auditorium was far from full the audience seemed to appreciate the show.   There was some cheering and the curious masculine growls that one sometimes hears in live streaming from the Bolshoi and even Covent Garden.   Several folk in the stalls rose to their feet which does not happen quite so often in England as in other countries.  I think Northern Ballet can chalk up Saturday evening's performance as a success.

The ballet's tour continues to Edinburgh, Cardiff, Milton Keynes and Belfast and it will be streamed to cinemas throughout the nation on 25 June 2019.  I think it is worth seeing and probably more than once since I appreciated it more the second time around.   Marston is a master of her craft and while I still prefer The Suite and Jane Eyre I appreciate Victoria.   Her many fans (of whom I am one) can look forward to her Snowblind which the San Francisco Ballet will bring to London at the end of May and beginning of June.  We will have another chance to see The Suit in Birmingham in September

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