History is a rich woven tapestry of people living their lives stitch by stitch hoping that their finished work will stand the test of time.
We first meet Bess as she is working on her embroidery. She loves her tapestries and has a desire for symmetry in art and life.
Born into a family that had fallen from grace she was able to rise up the Tudor hierarchy and became the richest person in England. She did this the only way a woman could do at that time by marrying well. Also, she was able to navigate a time fractured by religious conflict.
She was close to the virgin Queen and housed Elizabeth’s rival, Mary Queen of Scots, on her behalf. In the recent movie about the Scottish Queen the rival Queens meet. There is no historical evidence that they ever met.
Talking of film this is an interesting aspect of this production but not necessarily a successful one.
The play is essentially a monologue by the excellent Michelle Todd who plays Bess, the two Queens and other parts. At the back of the stage is a tapestry that doubles as a cinema screen. On this are projected filmed inserts of three of her four husbands.
Bess interacts with her husbands on screen and at other times these men speak for themselves. The problem, when she is interacting with them, is that you don’t get the reaction and electricity of two people talking. There was no drama.
Now I have to say that the acting from the three actors on screen was very good. They delivered their speeches wonderfully and you did believe in them but the fact they were not there in person made the experience a bit dislocating and unemotional.
Tom Dussek was charismatic as her second husband. Matt Weyland had a nice earthy quality and he performed with a twinkle in his eye. The strongest performance of the three was given by Seth Morgan as the Earl of Shrewsbury. He was moving, funny and you were gripped by him when he spoke.
The star of the show was Michelle Todd as Bess. She captured perfectly a woman who was, like we all are, a mass of contradictions. She was pious but drawn to witchcraft, loyal and yet willing to switch sides, a free spirit but dictatorial and capricious yet all the time desiring symmetry and balance.
The main problem with the play is a structural one. By choosing to effectively make it a one woman show, rather than a drama, it becomes a bit like a history lesson. We are told a lot of things and it would have been more interesting to have been shown them instead.
Maybe these creative decisions were taken for practical reasons. It was entertaining, well acted and the filmed parts were imaginatively realised. In parts this tapestry was well stitched but as a whole it just didn’t quite work.
Reviewer: Adam Williams
Reviewed: 23rd March 2019
North West End Rating: ★★★