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[Performance Analysis:] THE NINE-DAY QUEEN, Baron’s Court Theatre, London.

Overall, all actors perform with great credibility and conviction. As the play progresses, a distinct library of idiosyncratic peculiarities emerges, which is chiefly true of the most consistent of the cast members, Samantha Ellison (playing Lady Jane Grey), enabling a good sense of character. A few stumbles over lines, but their meaning and character intention remain most legible and accurately delivered. I would say, however, that there is a certain roboticism in the manner in which the cast navigate duologues, most noticeably between Maddie White (playing Rita) and Moya Matthews (playing Lena), where there is a delay in reactivity until after the interlocutor has finished their line. I would recommend work on constant presence and reactivity to ensure that performed responses feel live and grounded. Indeed, there is a sense of stasis as the performers also, similarly, tend to stay completely still until delivering their own lines.

This roboticism is also prevalent in the text itself, however, making artificiality in physical performance more difficult to avoid. The relentless inclusion of superficial banter, in particular, allows for a lack of depth amongst the characters — the very first, more conversational and jokey scene between Rita and Lena, for instance, in comparison to the scene wherein Lena queries Rita’s sexuality. I find the latter to be most demonstrative, giving us a profounder take on Rita’s character in the confirmation of an allusive character emelent and a glimpse into an intimate and gentle moment of character bonding. This is not to say that only serious scenes make for great plot and character development; instead, I communicate that banterous scenes in performances like this should be refined and revelatory just as any other. Language use does become a significant issue, most noticeable in scenes wherein technical language is incorporated. This is in reference to Rita occasionally divulging her intellectual discoveries from the books she has read or the facts she has retained, which are incongruous with this aforementioned gossipy/informal register in which the rest of the text is written; there is a disconnect here when we consider that that this is not how Rita’s speech is usually presented. Yet another voice is introduced when Rita delivers her political opinions, it is worth nothing. In this inconsistency and multifacetedness of the language used, we completely lose all sense of identity and individualism and are presented, instead, with a sterile spokesperson, a mouthpiece, robotic and lacking uniqueness.

As expressed above, there are multiple, clashing voices at work within this text, each with their own motive and affect. This leads to inconsistencies of not only voice but of style and narrative too. And, notably, directorial choices here do accentuate stylistic incongruities.

We have three main scene types in this performance: monologues, duologues, and stylised movement sequences, the latter of which is the most disparate of the three. The intended naturalism of the duologue scenes, in particular, somewhat grates against the hyperstylisation of the remaining segments, which feel awkward and under-demonstrative. For example, our first major scene transition / stylised sequence sees Matthews waiting purposelessly on the edge of the stage for White to finish her monologue, so that she may pass her a blazer for the next scene. Moments like these feel inefficacious and inattentive. Another example is the sequence seeing Lena and Rita circling the stage, opposite one another, staring at each other, and this is far too confrontational, considering the story sees no conflict and solely love between these two characters, or one could refer to one of the very final transitions, in which Lena and Lady Jane Grey share a knowing, warm look whilst changing the set pieces for the next scene. This latter example feels most incongruous, as these two characters have no relationship to one another elsewhere in the performance [beyond Lady Jane Grey’s knowing and talking of Lena with Rita, distanced], and so it would stand to reason that they should take no pleasure, peace or joy in recognising and appreciating one another. In this way, activity during these sequences is either unimpactful or confused — or simply in stark contradiction to the main narrative.

I do feel that these stylised sequences could, indeed, be appropriate for a play that also includes an imagined historical figure so casually into its narrative, but, currently, each story element — even the manner in which the presence of this figure is addressed — feels distinctly separate from its counterparts. I do admire, however, an attempt to make transitions engaging and to fill these with character and story moments, but I would recommend against performers changing sets in character, for the transition then becomes, in most cases, its own performance independent and irrelevant to the overarching story. I would recommend, instead, if character action is desired during transitions, that the stage is changed by other, out-of-character performers — for example, Lizzie O’Reilly (playing Val) and another of the cast members whom the interstitial character action does not involve — whilst our focus is drawn to a complete [muted] scenelet between the characters who are involved. Clear and coherent transitions see the performer in a character or stagehand role and not a blend of the two.

“An intriguing concept but a text which has yet to find its style, voice, focus, and line of enquiry.”


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