This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

Editrix Royale

When Queen Victoria died in 1901, her youngest daughter, Beatrice, took it upon herself to ‘edit’ her late mother’s diaries for the public—a deed once deemed “the greatest act of censorship in history.” For better or worse, Beatrice revised the unsavoury aspects of Victoria’s memoir and excised others altogether, shaping the triumphant biography that lives on today. This process of transcription—in particular, the dilution that occurs when we reinforce attenuated versions of truth—drives Cathy Marston’s new production for Northern Ballet, a metanarrative that filters Victoria’s life story through the dual lens of her own recorded memories and Beatrice’s revamp. It’s a ballet of recollection, yes, but also discovery, whittling new pathways into well-trodden stories.


Northern Ballet's “Victoria” by Cathy Marston


Sadler's Wells, London, UK, March 26, 2019


Sara Veale

Abigail Prudames with Northern Ballet dancers in “Victoria.” Photograph by Emma Kauldhar

subscribe to the latest in dance

“Uncommonly intelligent, substantial coverage.”

  • Weekly articles from the world of dance
  • Wide diversity of reviews, interviews, articles & more
  • Support for quality art journalism

Already a paid subscriber? Login

We open with Victoria’s death and a middle-aged Beatrice assuming her role as editrix royale; from here the show whips back into Beatrice’s adolescence, tracking the fractious years following the death of her father, Albert. Events during this time—winnowed through Beatrice’s subjective eyes—include Victoria’s affair with her servant John Brown and her fatal meddling in her daughter’s marriage. The second act widens Beatrice’s perspective by reaching into Victoria’s own youth and extracting sympathetic moments: her daunting ascent to the throne at age 18, her adoration for Albert, her exhaustion in trying to balance motherhood with running an empire.

This framework is ambitious, and recalls Marston’s imaginatively crafted “Jane Eyre” in its narrative layering and mingled timelines. Its interrogation of a monarch best associated with buttoned-up morality is a definite high point: Marston’s Victoria is permitted by turns to be nervous, libidinous, intemperate, wistful, excited, vulnerable—a complex portrayal, rich with the interiority so often neglected in classical ballet. At the same time, though, the production often trips over its own structural hurdles, introducing successions of non-linear flashbacks and then labouring to clarify who’s who and what’s what. Narrative elucidation takes a front seat, constantly diverting attention away from Marston’s insightful characterisations.

The choreographic language is more assured, with vivid footwork and lively, innovative partnering that rewrites the gravity-defying aerials of classical technique. (When I interviewed Marston for Fjord Review 's print magazine, she noted that “in traditional ballet, the woman is supported and lifted, but that’s not always the case with [my] characters; sometimes they have to support others or share the weight. That’s important to me, particularly in my pas de deux.”) In “Victoria,” our titular heroine (danced vivaciously by Abigail Prudames) crouches and tumbles as often as she soars. One sprightly duet sees her skate across the stage en pointe, John Brown (Mlindi Kulashe) clasping her from behind, breathing elation into her sharp edges. Later she dangles across his arms, rocking her frame back and forth like a weary, slowing pendulum.

Pippa Moore as Older Princess Beatrice in “Victoria.” Photograph by Emma Kauldhar

Beatrice—whom Pippa Moore brings to life with intelligence and compassion—looks on during these cavorts, physically mirroring the unease of her younger self, played by Miki Akuta. Incensed at the prospect of Albert’s sullied memory, she steps back in time, wrenching Victoria and John apart and tearing pages from her mother’s diaries in a righteous editorial interference. Later she relives the script of her own romantic biography, joining a tender dance with Akuta and Sean Bates as they compose the early days of Beatrice’s marriage to Prince Henry of Battenberg (better known as Liko). Moore shines during these interactions, inhabiting the conflict of her writing task in scribbling feet and scrawling arms.

Flitting from fledgling queen to haughty empress and back again, Prudames has a wider-ranging role to reckon with. It’s a delight watching her tackle the diverse manifestations of Victoria’s reign—the regency glamour, the regal pressures, the dutiful mothering and illicit romances. In her elder scenes, her weighty black gown becomes a symbol of sovereignty, giving the impression of an unconquerable, impenetrable fortress. In younger moments, however, she’s stripped of this cumbersome costume, unharnessed and freer to move, to flirt, to fall in love. Albert (played with dashing arrogance by Joseph Taylor) responds in kind to these diverse incarnations, subsuming Victoria first with courtship and later with ulterior power grabs. His dominance offers yet another perspective on this many-sided persona and her capacity to be diminished in certain circumstances.

Less nuanced are the recurring motifs of imperialism—there’s copious kissing of the feet and dancing atop maps of India —and overegged scenes like Victoria’s exhausting childbirth montage and her outrageously lascivious wedding night with Albert (a brash bit of editorialising from Marston herself). For all its unsteady parts, though, the ballet is well-considered, with energetic dancing and whole-hearted portrayals. The final scene, in which Beatrice reconsiders her mother’s humanity upon witnessing Victoria’s distress after Albert’s death, represents the kind of forward-looking storytelling we should encourage on the ballet stage. Curled in a ball, cradling her youngest daughter, Victoria surrenders to grief; with Beatrice’s intervention, however, she rises, standing tall once again.

Sara Veale

Sara Veale is a London-based writer and editor. She's written about dance for the Observer, the Spectator, DanceTabs, Auditorium Magazine, Exeunt and more. Her first book, Untamed: The Radical Women of Modern Dance, will be published in 2024.



So Far So Good
REVIEWS | Faye Arthurs

So Far So Good

The School of American Ballet is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. So is George Balanchine’s iconic “Serenade”—the first piece he made in America in 1934, choreographed on students from his brand-new academy.

Continue Reading
Sound Effect
REVIEWS | Rachel Howard

Sound Effect

Sometimes there’s not much you’re able to say analytically about a dance work, and yet you know you’ve just witnessed a blood-guts-and-soul offering from an artist of the keenest kinaesthetic intelligence. Such was the case with gizeh muñiz vengel’s “auiga,” second on a double bill finale for the ARC Edge residency at San Francisco’s CounterPulse.

Continue Reading
Hope is Action
REVIEWS | Gracia Haby

Hope is Action

The Australian Museum Mammalogy Collection holds ten specimens of the Bramble Cay Melomys collected from 1922–24, when they were in abundance. One hundred years later, a familiar photo of a wide-eyed, mosaic-tailed Melomys, the first native mammal to become extinct due to the impacts of climate change, greets me as I enter the Arts House foyer.

Common Language
INTERVIEWS | Candice Thompson

Common Language

Pre-pandemic, queerness and ballet were two terms not often put together. So, when choreographer Adriana Pierce started bringing a community of queer-identifying people together on Zoom—cis women, trans people of all genders, and nonbinary dancers—it felt like a watershed moment for many of them. 

Good Subscription Agency