Ballet And History Collide In Northern Ballet's Victoria At Sadler's Wells

Victoria, Sadler’s Wells ★★★★☆

Hari Mountford
By Hari Mountford Last edited 63 months ago

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Last Updated 27 March 2019

Ballet And History Collide In Northern Ballet's Victoria At Sadler's Wells Victoria, Sadler’s Wells 4
Photo: Emma Kauldhar

Corseted Victorian gowns and Benjamin Disraeli may not be likely candidates for a ballet, but in Northern Ballet’s new historical offering, these are just part of a gripping production. Choreographer Cathy Marston, known for her incredible narrative ballets such as Jane Eyre, is back at Sadler’s Wells with Victoria, a new performance inspired by the relationships and intricacies of the queen’s life seen through the eyes of Victoria’s youngest daughter, Beatrice.

Photo: Emma Kauldhar

Transported back to the England of 1901, the audience is first faced with the queen, nearing her death, writing out diaries of her life (accompanied by a rather grating sound of quill on parchment, projected over the orchestra). Her daughter Beatrice reads the diaries, and as she does so, the past unfolds on the stage. It's particularly unusual in the way it switches between the past and the present so frequently, between Beatrice reading the diaries, and the content of the diaries playing out. Initially this is a little hard to keep up with, but it soon all makes sense — the Beatrice from the present is constantly spectating the past, so more often than not, there are two Beatrices on stage.

Photo: Emma Kauldhar

The dancing itself is extremely lyrical, accompanied by Philip Pheeney’s score, which alternates between regal-sounding horns, Ravel-seque sequences, and more discordant, almost Stravinsky-style clashes.  Although called Victoria, the ballet’s star is undoubtedly the ‘old’ Beatrice, played by Pippa Moore, her relentless energy, emotion-filled movements and impeccable technique overshadowing that of the queen, albeit marginally.

Photo: Emma Kauldhar

The ballet is not only an artistic feat, but a pretty good lesson in history — Queen Victoria’s affair with her servant, John Brown, is one of the less-talked about elements of life that is showcased. Falling in love with Albert, becoming Empress of India, her Coronation, and all of Victoria’s childbirths are played out, so that the audience can’t help but learn something whilst being transfixed by balletic elegance. Without reading the programme's explanation of the storyline, though, Victoria is slightly hard to comprehend – but after learning the plot, the ballet all fits together like a satisfying jigsaw. A new, unique and beautifully performed ballet, Victoria is history in the making.

Victoria, Sadler’s Wells, Rosebery Avenue,  EC1R. Tickets from £15, until 30 March 2019.