Queen Anne is a Shakespearean-style historical play that centres on the much-overlooked role women have played in politics. The ADC’s production of Helen Edmundson’s 2015 play is full of secrets and intrigue, pulling the focus away from the sumptuous early eighteenth-century court and into the bed chambers of the royal palace where the real politics and warfare of the time is plotted and unfolds. The cast of Queen Anne was fantastic in their interpretation of the historical figures, drawing the audience into the complexities and dangers of court life.

The story focuses on the relationship between Queen Anne as she succeeds to the throne, and her childhood friend Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough. Set against the backdrop of brewing wars on the continent, tensions are already high in their relationship when Abigail Hill, a poorer relative of Sarah, capitalises on their rift to become the new court favourite. All three women were superb in their roles, particularly the Duchess of Marlborough, who portrayed Sarah not as a victim of her situation but as the manipulator, embodying the Lady Macbeth role of Shakespearean-style works.

The drunken songs throughout the play worked well as transitional scenes that created the idea of the ridiculousness of the royal court without actually featuring a tedious parliamentary scene. Robert Harley and the other MPs write songs that taunt the frail Queen, and it is difficult not to feel tremendous pity for Anne. Of all the characters, she is truly the victim of terrible circumstance, but as the play progresses, the audience sees her gain strength from her pain and refuse to no longer submit to the whims of her council.

“beautifully directed and performed story, filled to the brim with emotion and tension” 

While the actors and script were superb, I felt the set and costumes were somewhat lacklustre. The mix of the male characters in very modern suits, with the women in historically inspired gowns, was slightly confusing. I enjoyed Harley’s flashy jacket and necklaces, but next to the Duchess’s vaguely early-eighteenth century dresses, it almost looked somewhat anachronistic. I’m not at all opposed to a modern look in historical plays, but it was the lack of cohesion that threw off the look of the cast.

Similarly, while the faux-stain glass windows provided a nice backdrop, it seemed in contrast with the raucous that the court was inciting. The simple sets were almost too utilitarian-looking for what we know was a highly flamboyant time for architecture and design. The characters make frequent reference to the Louis XIV style Blenheim Palace that was constructed for the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough, one of the most elaborate palaces in the British countryside, yet this is not really reflected on stage, even though the outlandish glamour of the time is essential to the story. Therefore, I do think a more creative use of lighting, costume, and the set would not have distracted from the intriguing dialogue, but enhanced it.


Mountain View

“The Comedy of Errors just lends itself to a festival”

Overall, Queen Anne was a beautifully directed and performed story, filled to the brim with emotion and tension. The chemistry between the characters sold the story, leaving the audience strained as the relationships deteriorated. The choice to make the Duchess of Marlborough the antagonist, rather than Abigail, was very interesting. Although I have avoided drawing this comparison, until now, in Yorgos Lanthimos’s 2018 film The Favourite, which is based upon the same timeline and story, it is Abigail who is the schemer, and the Duchess, who is extremely intelligent, is ultimately pitied as she falls prey to her traps. If you enjoyed The Favourite, I would recommend Queen Anne as it is a very different analysis and portrayal of the Duchess of Marlborough, whose final soliloquy leaves no doubt she is the Lady Macbeth of the British courts. Despite the costumes and set being slightly less sumptuous, ADC’s Queen Anne was as dramatic and enthralling as the Oscar-winner.