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Review: Queen Anne, at Theatre Royal Haymarket

Acclaimed RSC production focuses on the intense friendship between little-known monarch and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough

21 July, 2017 — By Sipora Levy

Emma Cunniffe and Romola Garai in Queen Anne. PHOTO: MARC BRENNER

FOLLOWING a sold-out season in Stratford, this acclaimed RSC production of Queen Anne is a fascinating character, shy and sickly, yet able to grow in stature, to become a strong and self-confident monarch.

Anne’s personal life was tragic: she was crippled by arthritis and suffered from disfiguring and painful gout. She had 17 pregnancies with only three babies surviving, and none reaching adulthood.

Helen Edmundson’s play focuses on the intense friendship between Anne (Emma Cunniffe) and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough (Romola Garai), who tries to exert pressure on Anne and pursue her own ambitions.

There is much to admire in this interesting production. Hannah Clark’s stunning set design and Charles Balfour’s glowing lighting, transform the theatre into a palace.

Brothers Ben and Max Ringham provide a lively score to accompany some ribald satirical sketches, which were popular at the time. Interestingly, these scenes use amplified sound to heighten the impact. Since there was a problem hearing some of the actors from the stalls, I wondered whether microphones could have been used throughout.

Cunniffe is a sympathetic Anne, sometimes needy and vulnerable, but also steely when she needs to be. Garai is able to convey the charm and wit of Sarah, as she plots and schemes her way to influence.

Despite some plodding moments of exposition, it is an enjoyable evening. Any major new play featuring such juicy roles for actresses, while informing us about the life of a little-known queen of England, is to be applauded.

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