Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
April 10, 2019
Queen Victoria’s mark on British history and culture is known beyond staunch royalists and Downton Abbey buffs. Her mourning for her husband, Prince Albert, is written all over Britain’s architecture. Most people have some impression of her life, whether it was her long rule, her passionate but cut-short relationship with Albert, or her presiding over the expansion of the British Empire.
Such a wealth of association and imagery provide a gateway into Cathy Marston’s Victoria for Northern Ballet. The ballet flows from the perspective of Victoria’s youngest daughter, Beatrice. Through reading her mother’s diaries, Beatrice learns more about her early life, which is performed in earnest by the company. The ballet is not strictly chronological, but works backwards from Victoria’s death: the first half focuses on Victoria’s grief after Albert’s death, the second on her ascension to the throne and rule up until that moment.
Victoria herself is played with impressive versatility by Abigail Prudames. Her depiction of a queen cowed by grief is particularly moving, her hunched spine and slow développés a portrait of a broken woman.
Pippa Moore plays the older Princess Beatrice. Her devotion sometimes trips into moments of intense anger, when she daringly throws herself to the floor and skids across the stage.
Joseph Taylor plays Albert with a light yet sweeping touch. Oddly, the duets between him and Prudames do not hold as much emotional resonance as the rest of the piece, his absence in the first act almost too grand to be filled by one person.
Equipped with Uzma Hameed’s insightful dramaturgy, Marston’s choreography is not restricted to rigid poses or steps. It is often soft and deep, welcoming of low drops and relaxed spins, allowing the dancers to breathe into their roles.
It’s playful too. Duets sometimes veer from traditional support and display into more painfully intimate, almost ugly, clinging and grabbing actions. The showpiece jumps are sometimes so seamlessly integrated into the plot they’re almost missed. At times, there is same-sex partnering and men wearing skirts. These moments are recognizable in their contemporary outlook, yet feel frustratingly rare in an art form that is taking so long to open up to such possibilities.
Philip Feeney’s score airily drives the plot on, sometimes with a percussive beat. Steffen Aarfing’s set comprises an arching bookcase that surrounds and looks over the action, with a high walkway whose knife edge hints at how easily things can fall apart.
In the climactic scene, we move through a busy, messy repetition of Victoria and Albert fighting over power, while Victoria is routinely placed back in bed to give birth. It is cut short, brutally, by Albert’s death. Victoria lies still in the middle of the stage, baby Beatrice clutched tight. When the older Beatrice helps her mother stand, she cradles her child and assumes her stance of power. Victoria’s head drops, but Beatrice raises it once again. It’s a beautiful final image, the reliance of this small creature empowering, not weakening, Victoria.
Victoria is at the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh to Saturday April 13. Visit www.capitaltheatres.com for tickets and further details.
It then continues on tour. Visit northernballet.com for dates and venues.