Previewed 30 June 2017, Opened 10 July 2017, Closed 30 September 2017 at the Haymarket Theatre Royal
A major production by the Royal Shakespeare Company of Helen Edmundson's new play Queen Anne in London for a strictly limited 13 week season
1702. William III is on the throne and England is on the verge of war. Princess Anne is soon to become Queen, and her advisors vie for influence over the future monarch. Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, a close friend with whom Anne has an intensely personal relationship, begins to exert increasing pressure as she pursues her own designs on power. Contending with deceit and blackmail, Anne must decide where her allegiances lie, and whether to sacrifice her closest relationships for the sake of the country.
This production transfers to London's West End following an acclaimed sell-out season at the RSC's Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon.
The cast features Emma Cunniffe as 'Queen Anne' and Romola Garai as 'Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough' with Daisy Ashford as 'Lady Clarendon', Sheena Bhattessa as 'Lady Somerset', Gabrielle Brooks as 'Jezebel / Lady Russell', Mark Charles as 'Jack Churchill', Jonathan Christie as 'Arthur Maynwaring', Daniel Daszek-Green as 'Jack Churchill', Michael Fenton Stevens as 'Dr John Radcliffe', Dave Fishley as 'King William III', James Garnon as 'Robert Harley', Jonny Glynn as 'Jonathan Swift', Richard Hope as 'Sydney Godolphin', Kwame Kandekore as 'Jack Churchill', Hywel Morgan as 'Prince George', Chu Omambala as 'John Churchill', Beth Park as 'Abigail Hill', Carl Prekopp as 'Daniel Defoe' and Sid Sagar as 'Samuel Masham / Inns of Court Singer'. Directed by Natalie Abrahami with designs by Hannah Clark, lighting by Charles Balfour and music and sound by Ben Ringham and Max Ringham.
When this production opened here at London's Haymarket Theatre in July 2017, Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard commented that is an "intelligent hit play... a rich and satisfying new drama with two splendidly meaty female central characters... writer Helen Edmundson offers such gripping narrative momentum that those who are no experts in lesser-known English monarchs won't feel excluded... A real summer treat all round." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph noted that: "If I can't cheer quite as loudly as I did at the premiere, that's a basic consequence of the piece looking a touch over-exposed in this theatrical palace, which dates back to the Hanoverian era that Queen Anne, with its simmering preoccupation with the succession, anticipates... Yet even if the evening isnít quite the hot ticket that, say, The Ferryman is, it still fascinates." Neil Norman in the Daily Express described how this "RSC production is handsomely mounted and well played but it never quite reaches the heights to which it aspires... A stalwart if stolid history play, elegantly performed." Ann Treneman in the Times said that it is like "a history lesson that often seems like a re-enactment of sorts with some "fun scenes" thrown in. It is a very bitty play, with scores of scenes... The structure, both of the play by Edmundson and the set by Hannah Clark, give the evening a jerky feel. ... The good news is that Emma Cunniffe is very good as Anne." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail thought that "the production proves less gripping than the subject matter. It is blighted by odd casting and some discordant writing, yet the evening is not without its merits... Where the production scores is in the machinations by the Speaker of the Commons and the Lord Chancellor." Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times hailed "Helen Edmundsonís intelligent and enjoyable history play," adding how "Natalie Abrahamiís sprightly production revels in both the comedy and the cut and thrust." Michael Billington in the Guardian highlighted that "the rare pleasure lies in seeing a history play in which two determined women are engaged in a battle for power... Helen Edmundsonís play may be a history lesson, but it rescues Anne from the shadows and offers a rousing hymn to female agency."
When this production was seen at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in November 2015, Michael Billington in the Guardian commented that "stage monarchs invariably attract our sympathy... Helen Edmundsonís fascinating new play is no exception in that it shows how the shy, sickly Anne grew, between 1702 and 1714, into a figure of solitary self-reliance... The real strength of the play, and of Natalie Abrahamiís fast-moving production, lies with the women and the two key roles are excellently played. Emma Cunniffeís Anne shows a woman triumphing over pain and 17 unhappy pregnancies to learn how to reign with grace... Even if history sometimes trumps drama, it is invigorating to see a play that, in the tradition of Schillerís Mary Stuart, shows women exercising power." Sam Marlowe in the Times wrote that "Helen Edmundsonís new play, deftly directed by Natalie Abrahami, is thick with history and complex party politics, as Whigs and Tories compete for Anneís ear. Itís fascinating, if at times rather clotted... Itís dense and not always easily absorbed, but Abrahamiís production is acted with verve and buzzing energy. An enticing glimpse of the passions behind the politics." Henry Hitchings in the London Evening Standard said that, "while the play succeeds as a vision of political intrigue and the pressures of monarchy, itís encumbered by a lot of plodding exposition, with characters often narrating events rather than inhabiting them." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph highlighted that, "enlivened by interludes of scurrilous, satirical song, the evening, directed by Natalie Abrahami, can veer towards looking like a lot of bewigged hustle and bustle. But the central journey from a would-be-ordinary queen to obdurate 'mother of the nation' is powerfully charted. This may not rank as high as the Bard's Histories, but it's no mean feat either - and it crowns a gilded year of multiple triumphs at the RSC."
This production was originally seen in repertory at the Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre (previewed from 19 November 2015, opened on 26 November 2015 and closed on 23 January 2016) with a cast that featured Emma Cunniffe as 'Queen Anne' and Natascha McElhone as 'Sarah Churchill'. Jodhi May was scheduled to play the title role, but she withdrew from this production prior to it opening due to creative differences.
Helen Edmundson's West End credits include the stage adaptation of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2012; co-writing the musical Zorro at the Garrick Theatre in 2009; and the stage adaptation of George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss for Shared Experience at the Ambassadors Theatre in 2001. Emma Cunniffe's London theatre credits include Sean Holmes' revival of John Osborne's The Entertainer at the Old Vic Theatre in 2007. Romola Garai's London stage credits include Edward Hall's production of Michael Hastings' play Calico at the Duke of York's Theatre in 2004.
"Queen Anne has a reputation for being the dullest of queens, and while the playwright Helen Edmundson doesn't altogether contradict that impression, she contrives a fascinating story out of the intense, possibly sexual relationship between Anne - dowdy, dumpy and dependent - and the glamorous, ambitious Sarah, wife of the Duke of Marlborough. Edmundson skilfully plays with one's feelings as admiration for Sarah's intelligence, and her belief in talent, rather than breeding, gives way to sympathy for the undervalued Anne, whom the duchess treats abominably. Natalie Abrahami's RSC production makes the most of the contrast between the two women, excellently performed by Emma Cunniffe (Anne) and Natascha McElhone (Sarah)... There are times when one is flummoxed by the appearance of yet another bewigged politician, but Edmundson cleverly includes some downright salacious sketches to fill in the historical background without too much ponderous exposition." The Sunday Times
"Queen Anne's reign, from 1702 to 1714, was marked by the union with Scotland and endless battles in a complex GCSE History nightmare called The War of Spanish Succession, fought over 13 years by the all-conquering John Churchill, first Duke of Marlborough. The focus in Helen Edmundson's play is Anne's deep friendship with Churchill's wife, Sarah, who was beautiful, clever, political to her fingertips and twice as vicious as anyone in the Cabinet... Director Natalie Abrahami certainly keeps the traffic moving on stage. In each act we are subjected to an outburst of smut from Jonathan Swift (Tom Turner) and a cabal of inky male satirists who sing dirty ditties in fake bosoms. We see Whigs being surly in curly wigs and all the actors have a lovely time. But in the end this play is too heavy-going to replace its distant sequel, Alan Bennett's The Madness Of George III, in the public affection. However, there's no doubt that the Royal Shakespeare Company has hit on a good story." The Mail on Sunday
"Director Natalie Abrahami wittily first shows us Anne as a pair of legs swinging off a bed - bloated, heavy and riven with weeping sores. Emma Cunniffe's peevish queen is physically cumbersome, emotionally needy and initially everything Romola Garai's glamorous, intellectually gleaming duchess is not. Their thrillingly ambiguous relationship becomes a slippery dance of manipulation and betrayal: the former gaining strength while the latter loses influence to Beth Park's social-climbing maid Abigail. In time, Emma Cunniffe's queen grows from grief-stricken hypochondriac to self-styled mother of the nation. Along the way there are topical history lessons - on the birth of the Union, on the political infighting between Whigs and Tories, on mounting public debt. This is a meaty and solid piece of work rather than gripping and pulse-quickening. Garai's performance could do with a tad more variation. But Cunniffe is a wonder. In the way it examines the woman behind the crown, it's a role and a performance that border on Shakespearean." The Metro
RSC Queen Anne in London at the Theatre Royal Haymarket previewed from 30 June 2017, opened on 10 July 2017 and closed on 30 September 2017