In her bicentenary year, Victoria's life becomes a ballet, with Yorkshire premiere

Her name is synonymous with an era of social and sexual restraint, so whether Queen Victoria would have been amused to be the subject of an exuberant ballet, we shall never know.

Thursday, 24th May 2018, 1:00 am
Lead dancers with the Northern Ballet Abigail Prudames and Joseph Taylor at Harewood House, as Northern Ballet announces, it is to premiere Victoria, a ballet by Cathy Marston in spring 2019.

But as the world marks her bicentenary next year, audiences, first in Yorkshire and then across the country, will see her life played out on stage as never before.

Northern Ballet has chosen today, Victoria’s 199th birthday, to unveil details of one of its most ambitious productions – an epic dance that tells her story through the eyes of her daughter and companion, Beatrice.

Believed to be the first time the late Queen’s life has been represented as a ballet, it is the work of the choreographer and director Cathy Marston, who was also responsible for the company’s version of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

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The production will have its premiere in the company’s home city of Leeds next March, before going to Sheffield, the West End and on tour.

Ballet was a minor and niche attraction in Victorian Britain and the Queen was not noted for her patronage of the arts, but her life story made her irresistible as a subject, David Nixon, artistic director of Northern Ballet, told The Yorkshire Post.

“It was part of an original idea I had of doing a ballet on each of the three significant Queens in the history of England, which would have been Elizabeth I, Victoria and Elizabeth II,” he said.

Deciding that a three-queen ballet would have been “overkill”, he fell for the fascination of Victoria’s life journey.

“A lot happened to her functionally, in terms of Industrial Revolution, but at the same time she led a romantic personal life. She was quite passionately in love with her husband and then had these other relationships with men during her latter years.”

The story fitted, as had that of Ms Brontë’s novel, with his company’s ambition to tell “women’s stories in women’s voices”.

Casting will begin shortly for the production, which will feature around two dozen characters, including Victoria’s friend, the former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

The story will begin on the Queen’s death bed, as Beatrice revisits her memories of her mother as a secluded widow, before discovering her anew as she transcribes the volumes of intimate diaries that had been left behind.

They trace Victoria’s challenging relationship with her mother, her marriage to Prince Albert and her ambiguous relationship with – some said marriage to – her manservant from Scotland, John Brown. The narrative also takes in the Opium Wars and the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Northern Ballet’s announce­ment comes as filming begins in Yorkshire on the third series of ITV’s drama about Victoria, with Jenna Coleman in the title role. One of the locations is Harewood House, Leeds, where dancers posed for preview pictures.

Mr Nixon said: “I think it will be a significant production. There is a fascination with Victoria, partly because of the TV series, but also generally, and to have her story told in dance brings a different perspective.

“I think people will be really quite fascinated to see what dance can do with the story.”

Ms Marston said she was “very excited to return to the company to work on such a rich story as that of Queen Victoria for her bicentenary year.”

The premiere will be at the Grand Theatre, Leeds, on March 9 next year.