Queen Anne offers an insightful and commendably believable depiction of the reign of one of England’s lesser known monarchs, and her complex relationship with childhood friend Sarah Churchill. Though the play takes time to get into its stride, the second Act is quite exceptional. Emma Cunniffe and Romola Garai give wonderful performances, and the play has an extremely satisfying payoff.
It has everything: dirty, jazzy songs sung lustily; knob jokes; fake brawls; knickers tossed to the audience; knob jokes; sex scenes of all kinds; an altercation with a garbage bin; knob jokes; liquids tossed or splurged onto the audience; dress ups; knob jokes; raunchy scene changes; prostitutes masquerading as Nuns; knob jokes; big items being removed from small, dark places despite security measures including the penis on a small statue of David; fart jokes; and characters called Master Whopping Prospect, Penitent Brothel, Dick Follywit and Mr Littledick. Did I mention there were knob jokes?
The role of Willy Loman is very exacting, requiring great range and subtlety from the actor. The single greatest requirement, though, is for the actor to be Loman rather than to play him; there needs to be total immersion in the character, and the character’s different stages. It must be possible to see the Loman who so enthralled and impressed his sons, the Loman who believed in the Dream and to contrast that against the Loman who is engulfed, diminished, destroyed. Antony Sher gives a prickly, vigorous, erratically explosive performance. He might wear Loman’s skin but he never gets under it.
Despite a delicious design from Anna Fleischle (the black velvet floor and beautifully detailed costumes especially) and some winning, often charming, performances from Catrin Stewart, Jamie Thomas King, Andy Apollo, Colin Ryan and Matthew Needham, Dunster’s production does not establish any case for Love’s Sacrifice to be revived.
Christopher Luscombe’s very funny version of the Beatrice/Benedick show complete with magnificent, period set (Simon Highlett), some fabulous costumes, Nigel Hess’ delightful music and Jenny Arnold’s joyful movement. Setting the play in the post-World War 1 period works nicely; the sense of changing times is entirely appropriate. It’s a gentle but frisky time and you can almost hear the approach of the flappers.
Breen squeezes every bit of comedic possibility from the play. The repertory company, so good in the dramatic and enthralling Oppenheimer, prove to be equally skilled in the bawdy comedy department. There are sly asides, vicious insults, dirty double entendres, rowdy gags, silly accent routines, fart jokes, catch-phrase jollity, physical comedy, costume comedy, sight gags, clowning – you name it, it can be found in Breen’s lucid, fast-moving and hugely enjoyable production.