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Three Queens (Susan Elkin reviews)

Three Queens

Rosamund Gavelle

Directed by Sharon Willems

Barons Court Theatre


Star rating: 3


It’s an oddly, but rather refreshingly, old fashioned play: no gimmicks or “edginess”. Just six actors in a small space performing to a sparse audience. We’re in the 1550s during a single night with the “ten day queen”, Lady Jane Grey who briefly succeeded Edward VI, due to be executed in the morning. Rosamund Gavelle’s 60 minute play explores the political power struggle, all rooted in religion in the mid 16th century, between Mary Tudor, now Queen and her half-sister Elizabeth who will follow her to the throne finally returning the country permanently to Protestantism.

It’s darkly lit (by Leo Bacica) to connote candlelight and when the action moves into a Catholic chapel, actors carry in trays of tealights and sing (not particularly well) which evokes the right sort of atmosphere. There’s a sound track which suggests a stormy night but it’s samey and gets monotonous especially when there’s noise from the bar upstairs and you can’t always tell which is which.

The acting is generally quite pleasing. Becky Black gives us a Mary desperately trying to assert her authority but inwardly troubled and already feeling her age. She is 38 but contemplating a dynastic marriage to Philip of Spain. Black finds a lot of depth and range in a complex role. Eliza Shea as Elizabeth is a good dramatic contrast in a light coloured dress, calm, rational, kind, perceptive, pragmatic and wary. Martha Crow’s Jane is terrified but resolute in what is effectively martyrdom. She will not convert to Catholicism to ease Mary’s predicament and she won’t adhere to Elizabeth’s suggestion that she should pretend.

In the supporting roles Les Kenny-Green makes Cardinal Pole a surprisingly kind, avuncular figure and Sushant Shekhar is charismatic as the flirtatious but scheming Dudley. Sally Sharp gives Kat Ashley, Elizabeth’s beloved companion, a maternal warmth which feels very truthful.

In short, this production is a worthwhile, quite decent effort to tell the story of a bit of Tudor history which is not particularly well known.

One caveat, though, which has nothing to do with Three Queens: Barons Court theatre is in what was probably once the pub’s cellars. And it stinks of bad drains so visiting it is never a particularly pleasant experience. Surely something could be done to rectify this?


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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