Abigail Prudames as Victoria with Northern Ballet dancers © Emma Kauldhar

Northern Ballet’s Victoria

5 April 2019 | Billie Manning

The life of Queen Victoria is meticulously documented, not least by the monarch herself, who wrote 122 volumes of journals

But after her death, her youngest daughter Beatrice took thirty years transcribing, editing and even destroying sections of the journals: the Victoria we know is one that Beatrice to some extent created. And Victoria and Beatrice did not have a simple relationship: by all accounts, Victoria was rather possessive and controlling, Beatrice being the youngest child (known as Baby) and only four years old when her father Albert died and her mother plunged into mourning.
 
For this, the ballet perhaps should be called Victoria and Beatrice, rather than Victoria, so important is the daughter to the story. Created, choreographed and directed by Cathy Marston and scored by Philip Feeney, with dramaturgy by Uzma Hameed, the show is a fascinating study of a mother/daughter relationship in a royal historical context with fluid, modern choreography.
 

Older Beatrice with Prince Henry (Liko) and Younger Beatrice © Emma Kauldhar

Victoria (Abigail Prudames) and Beatrice’s lives and relationship is brought to life by a fantastic storytelling device in which Older Beatrice (an accomplished Pippa Moore) reads her mother’s diaries and the scenes come to life with Beatrice watching and interacting with events from her mother’s life – and her own. In a beautiful pas de trois in a scene lifted from soon after her marriage to Prince Henry of Battenberg (played by the very well-cast and charming Sean Bates), she is a cipher dancing with the past. She intertwines herself with her husband and younger self as they embrace, an invisible shadow replicating their movements much as she replicated large parts of her mother’s life in her own – Liko would die young and Beatrice would mourn deeply. Miko Akuta, playing Young Beatrice, is a standout dancer and this scene draws out her skill beautifully. The way the past and the present intermingle shows the cyclical nature of not just the relationship, but of history in general. 
 
Less successful are the political and world events depicted in the story. Moments such as Victoria meeting Disraeli and being declared Empress of India are slightly awkward and seem shoehorned in. Similarly, in the second act, the charting of Victoria and Albert’s relationship, from initial disinterest to flushed infatuation, is deeply romantic, but showing Victoria having each of her nine babies is an unnecessarily lengthy scene which could have easily been pruned or more metaphorised. Had some of these scenes been cut, so would the number of characters, making the show easier to follow.


Victoria Older Beatrice © Emma Kauldhar
 
The set is a library, with the red books written in by Victoria slowly replaced by the blue versions edited by Beatrice. The ensemble is at times used to represent the books in an effective repeated motif. This is particularly evocative in the second act as the books aid Beatrice in her journey to understanding her mother’s life. The score is lush, romantic and well-themed, and each character gets their own sound (Albert, for example, is linked with the romantic piano, of which he was a proficient player).
 
The ballet is at its best at its most creative, surreal and metaphorical; Beatrice handing her baby-self to Victoria in the ballet’s closing moments is brilliant, showing the peace Beatrice has come to with the events of not only of her mother’s life, but of her own.
 
Tour Dates:

2-6 April at Leicester Curver 
10-13 April at Edinburgh Festival Theatre
30 April-4 May at Milton Keynes Theatre 
21-25 May at Cardiff New Theatre 
29 May-1 June at Belfast Grand Opera House 
25 June at cinemas across the UK
 

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