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Review of Queen Anne at Theatre Royal Haymarket

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

The English monarchy has, of course, been the subject of many plays, from Shakespeare (Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV, Henry V, King John and Henry VIII) to Alan Bennett (George III) and the current and next incumbents (Peter Morgan's The Queen and Mike Bartlett's King Charles III), as well as the occasional musical (I and Albert, for Queen Victoria).  

A year and a half ago the RSC expanded this sub-genre with the Stratford-upon-Avon premiere of Helen Edmundson's Queen Anne, telling the story of the life of the last of the House of Stuart, who was born into tumultuous times. She was born in 1665, the same year as the Great Plague of London and a year before the Great Fire of London; she took the throne in 1702 and reigned until her death in 1714. 

Now this play moves to the gilded splendour of the Theatre Royal, Haymarket - the most regal of London theatres - to offer a fascinating slice of royal court intrigue, and in particular the deep friendship the Queen had with a woman called Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, who with her military commander husband John became effectively the power behind the throne. 

There's quite a lot of hustle and bustle in Natalie Abrahami's production, which atmospherically but disruptively puts in some satirical songs to propel it along; but the core of the play and production are the performances of Emma Cunniffe as the Queen and Romola Garai as Sarah, whose friendship and eventually mutual betrayals are beautifully charted.

This is a portrait of female friendship and female agency, and a rare showing of women power on the London stage. Not only is the play written and directed by women, it also stars two fine actresses, and is also designed, choreographed and features musical direction by women. 

This shouldn't be so unusual that it is even worth remarking upon in 2017; that it still is demonstrates just how much of a challenge strong women have had, not just in the early 18th century when this play is set, but even today in the early 21st.  

Queen Anne tickets are on sale now. 

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