Catalysed by the ITV series Victoria, Choreographer and Artistic Director Cathy Marston has brought the iconic Queen to the stage. Victoria’s (Abigail Prudames) first appearance is as a frail old woman writing her final diary entry. Watching is her youngest, Beatrice (Pippa Moore), born shortly before her father Prince Albert’s (Joseph Taylor) death.
The Northern Ballet production exceptionally focuses on the precious mother-daughter relationship. Their movements blossom on stage; concentrating on Victoria’s maternal instincts and the dependency they share as Victorian women in a harsh, patriarchal society. Although the ballet is called Victoria, it is centred around Beatrice reading her mother’s diaries to see who she was before the black dresses.
Marston, therefore, takes an episodic route and alternates from past to present. Victoria dominates both tenses, making it occasionally hard to differentiate the shift in tense. Rich music from Philip Feeney externalises the emotions on stage; with shrill violins building tension and a strong brass section adding to the regality. A towering bookshelf encapsulated the dancers, effectively conveying the confinement of the now dead Queen to pages.
As Beatrice reads, she censors her mother’s history. She rips out pages in shock and edits diaries to fit the mother she wanted. Dramaturg Uzma Hameed, in conversation with historian Mathew Dennison, spoke of his amazement at how the history of the infamous Queen is shaped by their complex mother-daughter bond. Beatrice’s anger towards Victoria is categorised by close gestures and Victoria’s fear of abandonment. Yet, Victoria is there to support Beatrice once her husband, Liko, Prince of Battenberg (Andrew Tomlinson), dies and they share a loving embrace. Dennison identifies their relationship as: “The ultimate Victorian mother-daughter relationship” and that Beatrice’s most significant relationship in life was with her mother.
Victoria basks in her power at Parliament. Men flock to surround her and she is never positioned below them – only lifted. Prudames’ wide smiles mesmorise as she is wrapped in a map of her Empire – a demonstration that she is the divine monarch alone.
She loses this once she falls smitten with Albert, and ultimately is usurped by motherhood. Amongst industrial clangs from the percussion, the Great Exhibition arrives and the ensemble physicalise as machinery. Each element of this scene is fused together incredibly, whilst its effect wasted Victoria, possibly moulding her to the isolated figure Beatrice knew.
The ensemble fill the stage and perform with delicacy and rigour. They move intrinsically as both people and objects, and are tangent to the reactions of Beatrice.
Queen Victoria was one of the most powerful monarchs of all time. The Northern Ballet unravel her vulnerability as a woman in a patriarchal society and her ferocity to rule. Victoria is a declaration that a woman can be both soft and strong.
Image Credit: Sheffield Theatres