Northern Ballet’s Victoria comes to Sadler’s Wells
PUBLISHED: 14:11 06 March 2019
On March 26, Northern Ballet’s latest creation – Victoria – arrives at Sadler’s Wells. Directed and Choreographed by Cathy Marston, this latest creation focuses on the life of one of history’s most intriguing women. We spoke to Cathy ahead of the show’s five-day run in London.
What led you to tell Queen Victoria’s story through the eyes of her daughter Beatrice?
During my research, I read that when Albert died, Victoria ran to Beatrice’s bedroom, gathered her sleeping daughter in her arms, wrapped her in Albert’s dressing gown and took her into her bed. Beatrice was only a young child at the time and after that Victoria never really let go of her.
After Victoria’s death, Beatrice took on the task of editing the diary that her mother had kept throughout her life.
This struck me as interesting because Beatrice had only really known her mother as the widow in black. Her journey (re)- discovering her mother must have been incredibly emotional and this felt inspiring to me.
What research process have you gone through to prepare for the creation of this ballet?
Primarily through reading books, I’ve got quite a lot of them now!
What’s so interesting though is that Victoria was so conscious of documenting her life and experiences through her diaries, through the commissioning of artwork and then with the advent of photography and film during her lifetime, we’re left with some really wonderful historical evidence – her diaries obviously are part of that.
Victoria led a long and incredibly eventful life. How did you select which ‘episodes’ and characters to include in the ballet?
Uzma Hameed and I wrote anything that we found interesting – whether that be an image, a historical point, a character or an event – on post-it notes and stuck them up all over my living room.
From there, we slowly began to group them together and filter them down. We couldn’t include everything but obviously there are certain characters like Albert who are really crucial as well as her nine children and their spouses.
Others like John Brown seemed important because he was so close to her mother during Beatrice’s childhood.
Then we have people like Liko, who I’m sure most people haven’t ever heard of, but he was Beatrice’s husband.
We’ve included references or fleeting hints to key events or themes in her reign such as the opium wars, Victoria becoming Empress of India, the Great Exhibition and the royal family’s crisis when Victoria refused to appear in public after Albert’s death.
Why have you chosen to include three different politicians amongst the main characters?
I felt it was important for Beatrice to discover the politician that her mother had become because she was, in her latter years a canny politician in a strangely instinctive way.
Her first Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, is very important to Victoria in the first years of her reign until he gives way to Albert as the main male figure in her life.
We also meet Disraeli who was one of Victoria’s favourite Prime Ministers. The combat between him and Gladstone is an important part of history so I wanted to feature that.
I read that when Victoria came to visit Disraeli at his house, he had a statue of John Brown with her favourite horse moved to the hallway where she would see it on arriving and also had the legs of one of his dining chairs shortened so her feet would touch the floor and she wouldn’t feel uncomfortable.
What do you want audiences to gain from this ballet?
We want to present Victoria in a different way; to understand her as a queen but also as a mother and a wife.
I think many people, not just women, struggle with how to create an identity that incorporates all of the strands of ourselves, and Victoria’s numerous roles contained that same tension.
We were also interested in Beatrice as the conduit for Victoria’s diaries and how her relationship with her mother impacted on how she revised history.
Storytelling is about stepping into someone else’s shoes and whilst there will be fun in it, it will be beautiful and quirky at times, I ultimately want to move people.
Northern Ballet’s Victoria is at Sadler’s Wells from March 26-30. More details and tickets here.