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Barbican Centre, London

Elizabeth
4.0Reviewer's Rating

William Tuckett is not satisfied with the version of Elizabeth I that history so often presents to us: a politician, a statesman, a demanding leader of a developing nation. His production gives us an Elizabeth struggling to combine the pressures of her role with the intensity of her sexual desires. Zenaida Yanowsky’s performance as Elizabeth is remarkable, revealing the deterioration of a monarch faced with the pressures of working out how to be both a queen and a woman.

The cyclical structure, starting and finishing with her death, suggests that the dominating forces of her experiences were her relationships with four men: Robert Dudley, the Duc D’Anjou, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Robert Devereux. Yury Yanowsky plays all four roles with theatrical aplomb, his witty expressions and playful movements reminding us that Elizabeth was rather unlucky in her choice of men: in each role, he draws her in, and then betrays her: it is an ugly reminder that while she may be a queen, she is also an aging woman with all the fears, jealousies, and unhappiness that come with rejection.

Combing dance and text is a wonderfully rich medium. Zenaida Yanowsky’s supple elegance interprets the text with a moving clarity, adding a layer to the spoken word that becomes a form of beautiful literary analysis. Samantha Bond’s opening words, accompanied by Yanowsky’s physically visceral introspection, establishes the tone of the piece. Alasdair Middleton’s text is predominately serious, and in fact much of the hour and a half performance has a sombre mood that only lifts into humour at a few cleverly comic moments. There are times when Yanowsky’s silence seems unnatural: it is tempting to try to interpret this as a thematic reflection on the silencing of Elizabeth’s sexual desires, but the reality is probably a more practical decision. Sonya Cullingford speaks for Elizabeth, punctuating her movements with a rich commentary, and the occasional playful outburst as she reacts to the betrayal of the men with whom she has surrounded herself. One of the stars of the performance is Katie Deacon. Dancer and actor, she sparkles throughout, exuding a fiery energy that lifts the mood of this rather serious study of a life.

Raphael Wallfisch performs throughout, the single sound of the cello reminding us of the sadness of so much of Elizabeth’s private life. Snatches of familiar sounds reach us: the illusions to Elizabethan music (Tallis, Morley, Dowland, Farnaby) are expertly merged into a new form by Martin Yates. Baritone, Julien Van Mellarts, adds to the soundscape with impressive style and confidence, providing yet another layer to the performance. Visually striking and highly evocative of the period, Fay Fullerton’s costume designs are astonishing in their detail, proving again that each element of the performance works together impressively to tell us a new and revealing story. Whether Elizabeth I was The Iron Queen, The Virgin Queen, or a woman forcing her way through a male-dominated society, this performance peels away our preconceived perceptions of her, instead showing us the struggles beneath the mask.

  • Dance Theatre
  • Director and Choreography by William Tuckett
  • Co-director and text by Alasdair Middleton
  • Music by Martin Yates
  • Cast: Zenaida Yanowsky, Yury Yanowsky, Samantha Bond, Sonya Cullingford, Katie Deacon, Julien Van Mellaerts, Raphael Wallfisch.
  • Barbican Centre, London
  • 17th May 2018

About The Author

Reviewer (UK)

Lucy Ashe trained at the Royal Ballet School before moving to Oxford University to study English Literature. She now teaches English and Drama at Harrow School; her role at the school includes directing plays and choreographing for musicals. She enjoys reviewing all theatre with particular interest in dance.

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