In the current climate of obsessions with regal romances, the Royal Ballet’s performance of Elizabeth I does not differ. Will Tuckett and Alastair Middleton’s portrait of the Virgin Queen provides an isolated illustration of her supposed sex life, without regard to the complexities of her political career. The performance commences with a scene of her death in 1603, where Elizabeth I is stripped of her regal attire to be wearing only a nude dress, an image of her sexual vulnerability that comes to dictate the entire performance. The chronology of the ballet is centered around the Queen being pursued by courtiers: the Earl of Leicester, Sir Walter Raleigh, the Earl of Essex and the Duke d’Anjou, all of whom are played by Yury Yanowsky without any nuance of characterisation so as to render his performance parodic and trivialises Elizabeth’s rapports. Rather reductively, Tuckett and Middleton present an Elizabeth I who failed romantically.
The only slight redeeming feature was the solo cello score
Zenaida Yanowsky, the former principal at the Royal Ballet, reprises this role successfully; her execution of the classical pointe choreography captures the fragility and power of the monarch. However, the framing features of Elizabethan text performed by Samantha Bond and Katie Deacon coupled with awkward operatic interjections provided by baritone Julien Van Mellearts, serves only to ventriloquise and undermine the Queen. In an attempt to intertwine these texts to contextualise Elizabeth’s character and career, Middleton’s dialogue “she likes dogs” and the allusion to the 1601 Essex rebellion with “there was a coup” is superbly simplistic. However, the most desperately pathetic illustration of Elizabeth was the rapidity of her collapse in the latter part of her reign: a slight look at her ageing reflection followed by the swift shift to her death scene. The only slight redeeming feature was the solo cello score written by Martin Yeats and performed by Raphael Wallfisch, which was a gesture to the contemporary composers Thomas Tallis and John Dowland.