Cathy Marston
Northern Ballet
Sheffield Lyceum

Abigail Prudames as Victoria with Northern Ballet dancers in Victoria Credit: Emma Kauldhar
Pippa Moore as Older Princess Beatrice in Victoria Credit: Emma Kauldhar
Abigail Prudames as Victoria with Northern Ballet dancers in Victoria Credit: Emma Kauldhar

Northern Ballet’s approach to the narratives that inspire its ballets is always unexpected and innovative. It could be anticipated that a ballet based on the life Queen Victoria would start with her early life and lead through key events, both personal and public, to her eventual death. Not so.

Victoria’s life is seen through the prism of the many revealing diaries she kept as read and edited by her youngest daughter Beatrice, who was four years old when Albert died and her mother’s constant and sometimes reluctant companion in the Queen’s long and sequestered years of widowhood.

Consequently, the action of the ballet does not follow a linear path but is episodic, alternating scenes in the ‘present’ after Victoria’s death when Beatrice is reading and annotating the diaries with scenes from the ‘past’ which the diaries reveal.

Beatrice is thus the focal character of the first act and her conflicted attitude to some events, including the death of her own husband is as important as the memories re-enacted. Beatrice is represented by two dancers, Pippa Moore as the Older Beatrice and Mika Akuta as the Younger Beatrice. A significant moment is when Victoria dresses her daughter in widow’s weeds and they effectively become sisters in mourning.

The second act focuses more strongly on Victoria’s life, her accession, marriage to Albert, her passionate love but reluctance to cede power to him, her many children, her overwhelming sense of loss at his death and subsequent withdrawal from public life.

The personal experience is played out against the rise of Empire, with Lord Melbourne, Disraeli and Gladstone key figures in the early years of her reign. Parliamentary scenes are enacted, and a stunning mechanicalised movement sequence recalls The Great Exhibition of 1851.

The success of the ballet reflects the close collaboration of the Creative Team, notably Cathy Marston, choreography, direction and scenario, and Uzma Hameed, dramaturgy and scenario, who worked tirelessly in the early stages to devise the formidable structure which holds the work together.

Philip Feeney’s original music score, composed with close reference to the developing scenario, includes themes and variations which are revisited and musical styles which sometimes reflect the Victorian period but allow scope for more contemporary and dissonant interpretations. Albert was an accomplished pianist so his dance solos are often to piano music.

The choreography is excitingly varied and allows the principals to express strong emotion and balletic expertise in several sequences of love making. As Victoria Abigail Prudames has passionate duets with Mlindi Kulashi as John Brown and Joseph Taylor as Albert, and Miki Akuta is moving as the young Beatrice in her passion for her huband Liko and her deeply felt grief when she loses him. Pippa Moore is an important presence throughout where she expresses the frustrations of the older Beatrice but acts as shrewd observer as the action proceeds.

The huge walls of bookcases in Victoria’s library are a pertinent and dominant reminder of the history contained in the diaries while a sweeping gauze curtain provides more limited areas for intimate scenes and covers occasional scene changes. The costumes throughout are either traditional and beautiful or in the case of the courtiers and others experimental and unusual.

This is a complex, ambitious, beautifully performed ballet full of interest and variety. People who may have watched the TV series will find the cast list relating to Victoria’s personal and professional life familiar. But it would be advisable to read the synopsis in the programme in order to distinguish in the first act between the two dancers presenting the young and older Beatrice and the one dancer who represents the elderly and youthful Queen.

Reviewer: Velda Harris

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