Victoria REVIEW: Northern Ballet at Sadler's Wells reveals the loves and lusts of Victoria

She was famously not amused but continues to entertain and entrance modern audiences. The lavish ITV drama starring Jenna Coleman returned to TV screens at the weekend, followed by this bold new ballet making its London debut. Both seek to discover the woman behind the widow’s weeds. Cathy Martson’s intelligent new work opens with the dying queen entrusting her diaries to youngest daughter Beatrice, who is startled (but not always pleased) to find the woman behind the mother and monarch. It is beautifuly choreographed and strongly danced but left me strangely detached too much of the time and occasionally a little distracted trying to figure out what was going on.

Presented in two acts, the first shows Beatrice reading and reliving the tale of her own first love, running parallel to Victoria’s relationship with John Brown.  

Abigail Prudames is sensational as the stern widow turned giddy beloved of a magnificent Mlindi Kulashe as her infamous gillie. The ballet makes no bones about the passionate physical aspect of their relationship as Victoria and Brown weave sinuously around each other and explode across the stage in wonderfully inventive leaps, holds and slides.

Indeed, throughout the show, Marston’s choreography particularly soars through sensational sequences with the central couples, and ocassional trios.

Pippa Moore is wonderfully spikey as the older Beatrice watching her younger self (Miki Akuta) fall in love and face down her mothers’ disapproval of her boyish and beaming suitor Liko (a winning Sean Bates). Their romance is gorgeously choreographed and danced, made even more beautiful by the older Beatrice dancing and weaving between them, young and happy again for a fleeting moment.

Act One emds as the bell tolls, Beatrice is widowed and her older self watches in numbed heatbreak and resentment as Victoria solemly (and with a sense of satisfaction) encases her daughter in her matching widow’s weeds. Misery loves company, but the Queen also now has a permanent companion tied to her side for life.

In the second half, Beatrice learns to understand her mother’ suffocating misery and melancholy by watching the young Victoria fall in love with Albert. Again, the partnering with Joseph Taylor’s Albert elevates the show as their growing love (and lust) is expressed in explosive dance and tender touch. Again, Prudames is radiant, transfoming from petualant teen caged at Kensington Palace, to young Queen embracing her freedom and confidence in her self.

Her unwillingness to be submerged in motherhood is clearly shown and the toll of numerous pregnancies is conveyed in a claustrophically repetetive dance between bed, nursery and increasingly desperate lunges for her red box of state papers. Her devastation at the loss of Albert is palpable as she cradles baby Beatrice in her arms, watched by her older self who forces her mother’s arm back up into the air as the regal monarch of the histpry books, which Beatrice’s editing (and censoring) of her mothjer’s diaries helped shape. 

It is a powerful moment and a fine examination of history, mythology and truth. There are so many good ideas in this ballet and beautifully choreographical flourishes. And yet…

For a ballet which purports to find the human emotion and fragility behind the historical icon, the show feels overly intelletual. I prefer not to read a synopsis, believing a work should stand on its own two feet (en or off pointe) and most peopel will come into this with a pretty good knowledge of the subject. But none of the group scenes were clearly deliniated enough, despite the uniformly excellent dancing by the entire cast. Too much was packed into those group scenes to little effect, while the individual and couple dances were able to breathe.  

For me, though, the major block is the music. Philip Feeneys’ score has been praised elsewhere, but it left me cold and rather uninvolved. It was background noise rather than helping to drive the emotion and story. Ballet must always be the union of dance and music, and the marvellous choreography deserved more than the generic soundtrack to a sturdy documentary.

The story is packed with love, loss, resentment, selfishness, sense of self and epiphany. I admired what I was shown on stage but I just didn’t feel it.

Victoria is at Sadler’s Wells until March 30 and in cinemas on June 25. 


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