I, ELIZABETH at Cutty Sark
In a world where vainglory and average intelligence pass for talent among our leaders, it’s hard to imagine today just how extraordinary it must have been for 16th century men of power when Elizabeth I came to the throne and confronted them with her formidable skills as politician, thinker, speaker, linguist, diplomat, patron of the arts and, most of all, as a female ruler ordained by God.
But it’s possible get a sense of it from the wealth of letters, prayers and poems she wrote throughout her life and from the reports of conversations she had with courtiers, foreign dignitaries and her closest advisors.
Writer-performer Rebecca Vaughan and Dyad Productions have mined these resources to create a fabulous one-woman show called I, Elizabeth that brings to life a remarkable queen who grew up in Greenwich as a daughter of Henry VIII, lived for years in fear of the executioner as her sister Bloody Mary tried to exterminate Protestantism and then spent most of her own 44-year reign fighting plots to overthrow her.
It’s no wonder contemporaries revealed her to be prone to emotional outbursts as well as being a towering figure of iron resolution who was determined to keep England free from the horrific religious turmoil that had engulfed Europe.
In Dyad’s production, directed by Guy Masterson in the wonderfully intimate studio theatre aboard Cutty Sark, Vaughan’s monarch is still in her pre-Armada youth, battling demands to marry, to secure the succession and to deal with the growing problem of her cousin Mary Queen of Scots.
We in the audience found ourselves cast in the role of psychotherapist as Elizabeth, in a gorgeous pearl-studded gown by Kate Flanaghan, discussed her innermost thoughts and fears about England, the Catholic threat and her own divine mission, the sudden swings between regal certainty and tearful self-doubt neatly flagged up by Waen Shepherd’s sound design.
The result was a beautifully rounded portrait of a monarch who, much later in her life, spoke the immortal sentence: “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman but I have the heart and stomach of a king.” Vaughan was quite simply magnificent as the Tudor queen. I don’t think you’ll see a better performance anywhere this year.