I was thrilled to be lucky enough to go to the world premiere of Victoria at Leeds Grand Theatre on Saturday 9th March.
Victoria is another original ballet from Northern Ballet, choreographed by the brilliant Cathy Marston, which is her fourth work for the company and her third full-length production. I was also lucky enough to see her last previous full-length production ‘Jane Eyre’ which this year will be in the USA, being performed by American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet.
Victoria, unsurprisingly, is based on the life of Queen Victoria, and 2019 marks the 200th anniversary of her birth. She was a formidable Queen and Empress of India and this ballet depicted her life brilliantly (although from the rumblings around me I’m not sure everyone understood ).
The Ballet started cleverly with the death of the Queen, then we are taken on a journey back through the key moments in the monarch’s life via her youngest child, Princess Beatrice, who as Beatrice the elder (played by the wonderful Pippa Moore) read the Queen’s diaries as the relevant scenes played out, acting as the guide throughout the performance by way of narration.
The first diary she picked up was a more recent volume which involved the Queen’s relationship with the servant John Brown, played by Mlindi Kulashe, who has been a member of Northern Ballet since 2013. I have seen him in many productions but as John Brown he really shone. Victoria was played by Harrogate born Abigail Prudames, also performing brilliantly throughout and is, without doubt, an exceptional dancer.
The scene between John Brown and the old widowed Victoria was one of my favourites. The vulnerability of the Queen and the strength she found in John was breathtaking and the choreography spectacular. I pride myself on being a strong, independent woman but if someone came along and cradled me in the manner John cradled Victoria, I would crumble!
As this Ballet is portrayed through Beatrice’s eyes, we also have reflections of her own life and Miki Akuta played the young Beatrice beautifully. There was a fantastic scene where the young Beatrice was falling in love with her husband, Liko, when the old Beatrice danced in unison with her younger self as she reminisced, clearly yearning for that time again. We witnessed some extremely complex moves as the young Beatrice and Liko, played by Sean Bates, acted out the scene, and the widowed Beatrice hung on and fitted desperately around.
The second act took us right back to a young Queen Victoria, her coronation and becoming the Empress of India, which was wonderfully depicted by wrapping the young Victoria in a map of India. Most poignantly, we see Victoria falling in love with Albert, played by Joseph Taylor, who helped deliver the most romantic of scenes of the ballet as we could almost feel the deep passion and devotion they had for each other, ultimately ending in heartbreak when Albert died. This was when we saw the transformation of a young, strong monarch into a heartbroken widow.
The ballet is accompanied by an original score composed by Philip Feeney, and as a piece of music, it accompanied the mood and the feel of the dance perfectly. The romantic scenes with John Brown had a Celtic lilt, love scenes with Albert a notably romantic feel, the scenes of Beatrice’s anger and disgust were almost thunderous – and a clever electronic scratching depicted the nib of a pen writing.
The costumes, as usual, were faultless, and I particularly loved the big skirt of Victoria’s dress made even bigger by the wide legged choreography and providing that shape of Victoria we all recognise. Fittingly, the backdrop of the staging was a library as this is where the diaries were held and where Beatrice was reading and a simple curtain was used to divide and switch from past to present.
All told, this was a really wonderful production and I am certainly starting to get to know Cathy’s style, which is highly detailed and contemporary in nature and for me makes for some of the best ballet productions I have seen in recent times. I am in no doubt it will do extremely well as it goes on tour throughout the UK.
Victoria runs until 16 March at Leeds Grand Theatre, before heading to Sheffield and then numerous locations across the country until 1 June.