Saturday, 6 November 2004

An Evening With Queen Victoria by Prunella Scales, Nov 6, 2004

An Evening With Queen Victoria
By Prunella Scales  
Fairfax Studio, Victorian Arts Centre, Nov 6 - 7, 2004. Ford Theatre Geelong, Nov 7, 2004
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 6, 2004

It is exhilarating to witness a fine actor transform on stage. Prunella Scales is Queen Victoria. 

Her capacity to metamorphose into this short stout woman who reigned over England longer than any previous monarch is astonishing.

Scales begins as Victoria in her last years but shifts suddenly and thoroughly to her youthful years. The transformation in Scales is striking as she tosses off the heavy blanket of Victoria's age, leaps from her chair and becomes a spritely, light-voiced girl.

We observe Scales visibly age both physically and vocally as she journeys through the years from Victoria's accession to the crown, her marriage to her beloved Albert, the birth of nine children, to Albert's death and her ensuing grief.

It is a masterly performance by a skilful actor. The play is much more than readings from a diary because of Scales' wry delivery and impeccable timing.

Every word in the show is Victoria's own from her letters and diaries. She was a prolific, dramatic and imaginative writer and revealed much of her inner life through her journals.

We see a passionate and intelligent woman who revelled in her duties as Queen, relied totally on her husband's love and support and fell into a dark depression for ten years after his death.

Director, Katrina Hendrey, creates an elegant and concise script with a clever structure that shifts in time and focuses on selected periods of Victoria's life.

The construction of a dramatic story from an enormously long life can be problematic because a biography rarely has a neat dramatic construction.  Hendrey avoids over-filling the narrative.

The inclusion of versatile pianist, Richard Burnett, and the thrilling tones of tenor, Ian Partridge, enhance the play. Burnett underscores scenes and plays music from Victoria's life.

 Partridge sings tunes reflecting Victoria's life, including Shumann, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Gilbert and Sullivan and even two written by her husband, Albert: Schmerz der Liebe and Der Ungeliebte.

To highlight Victoria's period of isolation in Scotland served by her faithful Mr. Brown after her husband's untimely death, Partridge sings The Sun he is sunk in the West, with words by Robbie Burns.

The Evening is elegant, delightful, soothing, charming and witty and Prunella Scales' performance is intelligent, wry and compelling.

By Kate Herbert

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