The New Theatre was abuzz last night. Crowds of audience members anticipating the Northern Ballet’s production of ‘Victoria’ created a real atmosphere of excitement as soon as you stepped foot into the building. Having never been to a professional ballet performance before, I was on tenterhooks, not quite knowing what to expect from a performance that aims to deliver a story without words and purely the movement of one’s body. After watching the performance, pleasantly surprised does not do my reaction justice .
The performance, based on the early life of Queen Victoria (played by Abigail Prudames) – before she became the woman of the textbooks shrouded in black mourning clothes – seen through the eyes of her youngest daughter, Beatrice (Pippa Moore) who is given a hoard of diaries written by her mother and watches the contents unfold before her eyes, learning more about the loves, losses and destiny as the Ballet continued.
Choreographed by Cathy Marston, the task was great, depicting a story spanning well over forty years, without the use of words, was a huge challenge, which she totally rose to. Marston excelled herself. The dancers accurate portrayal of emotion truly is something to be commended in this piece, love, lust, frustration, grief and anger were all depicted by all cast members (including a captivating performance by Miki Akuta, who played younger Beatrice). Marston’s precise use of the body to express one emotion implored the audience to feel the same way, grieve when her character was grieving, smile when her characters felt love and so on.
The emotional performances were where both Akuta and Moore completely mesmerized the audience, when united with her husband (Liko, played by a strapping Sean Bates) Bates and Akuta engaged in a lovers dance which seemed so natural and effortless, they truly danced like there was no one watching. Sean Bates is to be particularly commended here, as he was partnered with Akuta (child/teenager Beatrice), but Moore’s character was Princess Beatrice in her adult years, so all Akuta’s movements were mirrored by her. Moore clutched onto Bates in earnest, as Akuta did, and his ability to bat not even an eyelid and focus purely on his lover, was compelling.
The exploration of female empowerment, and how it can be snatched from underneath them through their own natural reproductive capabilities was explored frequently throughout the performance. Cathy Marston and Uzma Hameed (dramaturgy and scenario) truly made this a tale of women and their ability to cope with extreme grief, love and responsibility. Queen Victoria was only eighteen when she took the throne of England, and Abigail Prudames ability to depict her as a spritely young girl was fascinating, moving as if her bones were made of elastic, a stark contrast to when the performance first opened, and she was depicting Victoria as a frail old woman, still wracked with grief at the death of her husband, Albert (Joseph Taylor). Prudames was a dance that commanded the stage. At various points in the performance, the stage could be awash with ‘party guests’, politicians, and other members of the court, yet your eyes remained fixated on the character she was playing. She demanded attention, as Victoria, when trying to reclaim her power- often snatched by her husband Albert, who encouraged her to continue to have babies, shown by a continuous repetitive dance, that was just as engaging as it was ever so slightly comedic- Prudames would raise her arms above her head to make a ‘V’, and despite all Albert’s efforts to push her down, she would not stop trying to reclaim her power.
The ballet ended in the most empowering way, leaving the audience completely bewitched for a second after the curtain began to close. Albert had passed away, Victoria was immediately struck with heart-wrenching sadness, Prudames writhed around on the floor in agony, baby Beatrice in arms.. Suddenly, aided by Beatrice, Victoria reclaims her power as Queen, she stands, spotlight directly on her, orchestra poised, one hand raised in a fist, compelling the audience to take heed, and baby in the other hand. A powerful image that remained long after the cast had left the stage. This really was a stunning performance, though a slight education on Victoria was paramount for ease of watching the first half. It really was a fascinating introduction to the world of professional ballet.
“Victoria” plays at the New Theatre until Saturday (May 25th). Tickets are available from £10 and can also be purchased via their website or by calling the box office on 029 2087 8889.
ARTICLE BY DAISY GAUNT