Victoria, The Ballet, Theatre review, May 29, 2019
By Conor O’Neill
Say what you like about Belfast and Northern Irish theatre, from comedy to tragedy, mirth, mayhem and sheer indulgence, we’re certainly not lacking in variety, whatever your budget.
With the fever of Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday anniversary reaching boiling point and the country harking back to days when it was an empire, nostalgia seems to be something of a comfort blanket to many in these uncertain times. Simply look at a TV guide. The Great British this, that and the other. From cake baking to benefit swindles and grand banquets, it’s tough work to find a channel without some remembrance of the UK’s stamp of authority of some kind.
On entering Belfast’s Grand Opera House, the great and the good were suited and booted for what I assumed to be a glorification of arguably, the commonwealth’s greatest monarch. Choreographer and director, Cathy Marston, with 20-plus years of hard graft and acclaim under her belt digs a little deeper into the troubled life and times of a woman reigning supreme in a very much man’s world. Like Time Team uncut, Marston’s portrayal of the monarch’s pleasures and pain is equally balanced between the viciousness and all out beautiful symmetry of motion and music. Reading though the cast and creative team is a veritable Who’s Who of OBE’s, MBE’s and CVs to make the West End and Broadway blush.
John Pryce-Jones is the man behind the orchestration, and as the definition of ballet meaning a story without words, a great burden is laid on his shoulders. Act one sees the death of Queen Vic, to give her the Albert Square name and from there we progress for two hours and 10 minutes of rises and depths, lust, love, grief, mania and a tone of loneliness and melancholy that grips the performance through its entirety.
What I know about ballet could be written on the back of a stamp, or an abbreviated text on the back of a sim card to the youngsters out there. I barely know my silhouette from a pirouette, never mind ballet etiquette, but thankfully I’ve eyes and ears, and somewhat of a blessing was a quick interval chat with a lady of higher social and cultural standing, who just like me hadn’t a clue what was going on.
What the first act had in drama and uncertainty, the second act clarified, and almost soothed. With the death of the huge hipped matriarch now a distant memory of an hour ago, we travel through the troubling times before when two thirds of the known world were at her control. There are politics difficult to understand unless you’ve a masters in history. 18 dancers play multiple roles but four or five stand out stand out. Old Victoria, young Victoria, Albert, Victoire and princess Beatrice. Diaries are torn, rewrote, vanities quashed and dashed and in a full circle the ending, an ending is met.
Whether this adaptation is historically correct is mere matter of opinion; we all know the victor writes history. What is undeniable is the ferocity and delicacy of the music; sensuality and physicality of the dancers. Set changes nothing more than modern tubular bars, a second tier and movements in time and mood brought to life by, and I’m sure this is amped up, the swish or slow drag of a white plume of cotton veil as scenes change.
Overall, an epic, if somewhat indulgent two plus hours of magnificent music, mood and movement.
1000 plus on a drizzly Belfast Wednesday night, . Tickets are going quick. To get yours visit www/goh.co.uk or phone the box-office on 02890241919
Victoria runs until and including Saturday, June 1st. with matinees on Thursday and Saturday afternoons.