Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Queen Anne; Touch

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Queen Anne; Touch

Article excerpt

The RSC's summer blockbuster is about Queen Anne. It's called Queen Anne. It opens at the Inns of Court where drunken wags are satirising the royals with a naughty sketch about boobs and beer guts. Everyone on stage pretended this was hilarious. A few audience members did too, out of politeness.

The principal characters arrive with their dramatic goals on display. Queen Anne wants to rule wisely. Her general, Marlborough, wants to conquer widely. His wife, Sarah, wants to help her monarch to rule wisely and her husband to conquer widely. And Sarah's scheming cousin, Abigail, wants to befriend the Queen so that she can marry a steady salary. These characters are neither very admirable nor very wicked and their objectives don't cohere into a single narrative. Nor do their stories conflict with each other very much and the result is a flaccid lump of half-kneaded dough. It's like watching a week-long episode of Blackadder with all the jokes removed, bar two. And here they are. The theme is the 1707 Act of Union. 'The union will bring stability.' That got a decent laugh. 'The Scots can't be trusted.' So did that. The female leads are hard to care about because the beautiful Sarah (Romola Garai) is too haughty and impatient with the dim and dumpy Anne (bravely played by Emma Cunniffe). It's like watching Liz Hurley giving deportment lessons to Danniella Westbrook.

The acting doesn't help. Players in the smaller roles shriek their words like life-guards emptying a shark-threatened beach. When the Queen enters, everyone throws a bow and then straightens up in a sculpt-me-for-eternity pose. Thrift is the guiding principle of the costume design. Sarah's shiny pink ball gown makes her look like a poached salmon. Marlborough's joke-shop wig is a Captain Hook number made out of bin-liner material cut into strips and treated with crimping tongs. His cheapo court costume features seven slabs of ill-assorted colour: mauve, brown, scarlet, black, white, grey and gold. He looks like a Christmas cracker. It might be incautious to suggest that the head of wardrobe, Hannah Clark, is colour-blind but I wouldn't trust her to slow for a red light.

The gravest failing is the language, which mixes Shakespearean pastiche -- 'Your Majesty, if I may make so bold' -- with 21st-century newspeak -- 'the costs of war are spiralling'. We're told that a character has 'lost his job'. When Marlborough's enemies accuse him of peculation, he gets 'suspended, pending an enquiry'. …

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