Posts Tagged ‘Theatre Royal Haymarket’

Review – Queen Anne – Royal Shakespeare Company at Theater Royal Haymarket

July 12, 2017

As a blogger, I don’t usually get invitations to West End shows, so it was hard to not say yes to an opportunity to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Queen Anne here in Londoninium. I was also intrigued by the subject matter, a modern treatment of a lesser monarch (by Helen Edmundson), and given that I’ve recently been to Blenheim Palace (for the Max Richter concert of music from Woolf Works) there was some additional interest for me. And the RSC is a rare treat for me, as I don’t usually travel to see shows and their tickets when they’re in London are not inexpensive. I expected high quality acting, costuming, and sets … the question would be how is the play?

The set for this show was gorgeously simple, an arched double level wall that from the top occasionally served as windows or balconies and from the bottom, the doors to various rooms. But most of the action took place in bedrooms – usually that of the princess and later queen, Anne (Emma Cunniffe), although also that of her closest friend and confidante, the Duchess of Marlborough (Romola Garai). It is in the interaction of these two women that most of the play’s plot is twined, although there is also some forward motion brought to play by the distant cousin (Abigail – Beth Park) that the Duchess (Sarah) has placed in the queen’s household. It’s interesting to see how close both women are to the queen – while the Duchess advises (and cajoles) on politics in contrast to Abigail’s job of changing the bandages on Anne’s suppurating legs, they both sleep in her bed regularly and provide as much emotional support as they do practical. There’s also a hint of a more sexual tone to Sarah’s relationship with the Queen, although it seems to be of far less import than the fact that the poor monarch endured 17 pregnancies with no surviving children to show for her efforts.

Anne’s personal tragedies – the loss of so many children, her own bad health, and the death of her husband midway through her reign – are certainly remarkable, but the historic times in which she lived, with ongoing Catholic versus Protestant conflict, substantial wars abroad, and the battle for Scotland via “The Great Pretender” are of such import that the story of her impact as a monarch is just as weighty a story and one well worth being told on stage. We get a fair amount of detail about the War of Spanish Succession (including financing thereof) and the maneuvering to get peace with Scotland; all of which are most welcome to see covered on stage. Even better is the Whig versus Tory split which makes itself known in attempts to influence Anne to pick one versus another to advice her cabinet. And yet, for some reason, the author of this play chose to focus on … Sarah’s temper tantrums when she thinks Abigail is now more popular with the queen than she is?

Really?

All of this history and suddenly we’re watching Mean Girls?

What makes it even worse is that neither the political wisdom Sarah Churchill must have had through close contact with her husband (or which she shared with him!) nor the relationship that Anne would have had with her own husband (who must have taken some interest in the country he lived in!) receive much attention at all. The broadsheets that mocked the queen get some attention, but a play just about how they worked behind the scenes to rake mud seems like a more intriguing yarn. Instead, we watch these two women play out one-note lives – Anne as Eeyore and Sarah as Regina George – while Abigail is entirely ignored as a plot opportunity. Cunniffe probably could have eked a bit more out of Anne but ultimately this is a case where the blame falls firmly at the writer’s feet. People interested in filling an evening with a learning a bit of history may find this show passable; but it is far from a classic. Let us hope the misadventures of the pamphleteers get their chance at some point in the future.

(This review is for the performance that took place on Tuesday, July 11,  2017.)

Review of “Marguerite – the Musical” – Theatre Royal Haymarket

June 13, 2008

Tonight my uncle, my husband and I went to see Marguerite – the Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. The reasons we went to see this show were simple: it was brand new (world premiere in London less than a month ago) and it was a musical. When it seems like 90% of what we’re seeing on stage in London is now either a revival, an American import, or some limp fish composed of pop songs with a thin through-line, this made it rather a standout. It was also not Gone With the Wind, which for some reason I could never imagine being anything other than cheesy even before the reviews sent it to its early grave (tomorrow, in fact). (Weren’t the Marguerite cast members thanking their lucky stars that they’d put their money on the winning horse!)

It’s actually hard for me to figure out what to say about this show because I didn’t find it thrilling, which is what I’m always hoping for in a musical, but this wasn’t, in fact, what I was expecting. Since the creative cast drew heavily from Les Miserables, a show I’d rank as among the most disappointing things I’ve ever seen on stage, I figured I’d loathe the music, cringe at the singing, and shudder at a banal book. Me, I am a classical musical kind of girl. I consider Oklahoma and Anything Goes the height of the form, and think that Chicago marked the end of the era. The only new musical I’ve really been passionate about is Avenue Q – everything else has mostly just been adequate, or boring, or bad.

As it turns out, the music in Marguerite is actually fairly pleasant. I really listen to the words the cast members are singing, which is especially important in this show, and the lyrics were interesting – they moved the story along without using painfully obvious rhymes to get there. The singers didn’t do that cheesy swooping thing with their voices that I hate, and the ensemble singing (the whole cast but also the trio of Marguerite, Armand and Otto) was quite good. But nothing was interesting enough for me to catch the tune and be humming it after the show, and while Marguerite (Ruthie Henshall) and Armand (Julien Ovenden) had fine voices, I wasn’t wowed by them. (This is not the case for Mr. Ovenden’s biceps, which did have my full attention.)

The story itself is pretty interesting, though not exactly any surprise to someone who’s familiar with La Dame Aux Camellias (or La Traviata, though I felt like this story split pretty far from it). A gorgeous older French woman is being kept by a German general in WWII Paris; she falls for a handsome piano player half her age, a man who makes her feel alive again. (Somehow it was all very Demi and Ashton.) There is, of course, trouble, and the Resistance gets involved. I actually was more interested in the way they wove in the historical fact of people being attacked for being collaborators after the war – and the way many people hid their lack of support for resistance activities afterwards.

I loved the set – it seemed like it was entirely made of glass, a metaphor for “people who live in glass houses,” and the use of projections on the lightly mirrored back walls very effectively created scenes of Paris without being particularly heavy-handed. Armand’s garret was very effectively created with just a bed and a big window, and the transition from scene to scene was seamless. And the costumes were quite good – one of the few times when I wasn’t sitting in my chair complaining about a lack of historical research or inappropriate use of [insert accessory here].

Overall I’d say this is a good musical, nicely set in the jewelbox that is the Theatre Royal Haymarket. For people who like the modern musical style, I think it would be a good night out – it just wasn’t one I was enraptured by, but my uncle and husband thought it was fine (though not outstanding). If you’re debating between this and, say, Jersey Boys or Wicked, I would go for Marguerite in a heartbeat, and even though I personally love Cabaret and Chicago, it would be much better to give a new show a chance. While GWTW deserved its fate, this show deserves much better. That said, will someone please bring Xanadu the Musical to London for me?

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, June 13th.)

Mini-review – Seven Brides for Seven Brothers – Theatre Royal Haymarket

November 12, 2006

Poster outside of Haymarket Theater for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers: “Dave Willetts sings his heart out!”

Me to Jason as we exit the theater: “I didn’t know his heart was so small!”

(This review is for a performance seen on November 12th, 2006. J’s witty reply is here.)