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The End Crowneth the Work

“I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England, too.”

Whatever your view of women in charge, you have to hand it to Good Queen Bess – she walked a great feminist walk. Forget the endless talk-rabies from the likes of Greer, Wolf, and Ensler, all jealous and cross because they still have to queue in John Lewis to use the loo. Most women, the ones who enjoy wearing heels and Barry M, intuit that banging on about the toxicity of testosterone and how mardy their vagina is feeling will fail to get those stubborn jam jars opened.

Elizabeth I knew this. When she spoke to her troops at Tilbury in August 1588 she knew she had to play on her femininity; she understood she had to rouse her men’s natural protective instincts enough for them to view the encroaching Spanish Armada as nothing more than a really big spider.

You see, her sex was both her weakness and her strength, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than in Dyad Productions’ one woman show, I, Elizabeth, directed by Guy Masterson, written by and starring Rebecca Vaughan. Adapting Elizabeth’s own words taken from her speeches, letters and private writings, Vaughan brings this most famous queen of England back to life.

Lights up, and Elizabeth is revealed sitting in a chair on a chequerboard floor.

Now, we know what you’re thinking, ladies. You’re thinking “How ironic. She appears not only as the queen but also as a pawn involved in an endless game of strategy with her advisers, her enemies, her people and, at times, her own conscience. This is like the fupping PTA all over again.” And then you’re fretting about how on earth she kept those tiles clean in an age before Klear and central vacuum systems.

We know from our history books what a brilliant politician Elizabeth I was. Much is made of her wit and intelligence, her skill for oration, how she could speak several languages fluently, and was considered one of the most educated women of her age. History is in awe of her courage, her fearless nature.

We’ll be honest – she makes that other great feminist icon, Katie Price, seem somehow… well, just a little bit lowbrow.

Nobel Prize Winning Katie Price (citation needs verification)

“I may not be a lion,” Liz says, “but I am a lion’s cub and I have a lion’s heart.”

Readers, we’re with you on this – it would make a great t-shirt slogan, right?  ‘Daddy’s Little Princess’ is good, but it lacks a certain sense of female oomph. Ditto ‘Porn Star’. Full of smarts, Liz knew that if she drew upon the mythology of her father, Henry VIII, she could use it as a foundation upon which to build her own unique brand of ball-breaking man-management.

At points throughout the play the lights blaze so brightly that the set disappears and Elizabeth seems to float, radiating divinity. Yet a blistering performance by Vaughan burns away any supernatural and historical gilding. Here is Elizabeth, all womb and boobs and wild sugar cravings. Vaughan’s Elizabeth manages to temper the mythology with humanity – with femaleness – and by doing so makes her achievements all the more slack-jaw remarkable.

Margaret Thatcher is the only female political figure our country has produced since Elizabeth to come even close to matching her stature and reputation, but, crikey… mention her name and it’s like invoking Bloody Mary or the Candyman. Parents and grandparents threaten to say ‘Maggie’ out loud three times in the mirror to ensure their little voters-in-waiting stay within the safety of their own tribe. Thatcher may be well into her eighties now and lost and alone in the labyrinth of Alzheimer’s, but the hate keeps on coming. Why?

Because Maggie had had to pretend to be a man for so long that she actually forgot that she was a girl. Trouble was, no-one else had; they were just waiting for a reason to remember. So when she emasculated thousands of men by stripping them of their jobs… elephants have long memories, but nothing to that of an ex-miner.

If only Thatcher could have bypassed political sexism by refusing to lower her voice to sound more male and by indulging in a good cry now and then as she worried about the size of her arse. We know from The X Factor that this sort of thing sits well with the public.

Elizabeth never pretended to be anything that she wasn’t, never denied the emotions of her own sex or suppressed its natural instincts to nurture and protect. Rather, she understood there was an advantage to being a woman, something Thatcher underestimated more than the unpopularity of the poll tax.

“It is a natural virtue incident to our sex to be pitiful of those that are afflicted.”

And Roman Catholics no longer had to blaze like, um, Roman candles.

“I shall lend credit to nothing against my people which parents would not believe against their own children.” 

So whenever English pirates said a big boy did it and ran away that’s what happened, Spain, okay?

“Monarchs ought to put to death the authors and instigators of war, as their sworn enemies and as dangers to their states.”

One for the boys that, really.

In I, Elizabeth, Dyad Productions have brought in a superb piece of theatre about what it means to be a woman with power. Elizabeth would have scorned the notion of ‘having it all’ as the fancy of spoilt children. Power is not about the glory and the conquest; it is not about the individual. It’s about sacrifice, acting with integrity, and refusing to accept that being a woman is anything other than a strength.

Oh, and about a woman telling a man that she’s never seen one quite so big. Can anyone open this jar, please?

Queen Bess Barbie – what every little girl should have for Christmas

 Dyad Productions, I, Elizabeth, tour dates here.  

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5 comments on “The End Crowneth the Work

  1. Great piece again, Chastity. You’ve summed up the feeling and power of those historic musings and the performance with your usual aplomb and insight. It was a fabulous piece of theatre and a stunning tour de force from Vaughan – brilliant to have it in Berwick. I did think that very, very occasionally Vaughan wandered into the territory of the Red Queen from Alice – but that is to quibble. Jackie

    • Thanks Jackie

      Yes, I know what you mean. The mood swings could be abrupt, but I always felt they had a foundation in Elizabeth’s frustration rather than Vaughan being actorly. To be so intelligent, to be surrounded those that were less so and yet having to pay mind to what they said… it must have driven Elizabeth to the point of fury!

      Chastity x

  2. To muse further on Jackie’s point: I think the mood-swing effect was exaggerated by the elastic quality of time on stage. I was under the impression that this was not all delivered in one singular confessional but, punctuated by the spooky light surges, took place at several different points in time. Each time we find Elizabeth in a different state of mind, like a montage sequence, so that the emotional flow is fractured and non-linear. It added to the disorienting feeling of being “inside Elizabeth” (if you’ll excuse the phrasing) and almost like you had come across a series of letters in a writing bureau after her death and tried to drink in as much of her mind from her writing before the memory of the woman faded.

    A wonderful play, one of my favourites this year – and a damn sight better than Miss Havisham’s Expectations (The other high profile one-woman show of the season where I was berated for metaphorically raping this woman by owning a penis.) Rebecca is a very smart, friendly and fun-loving girl who was a joy to talk to after the show.

    Rob

    • Hi Rob

      Great comment, thanks! I agree with you about the time shift. I had the impression that we were hitching a lift in her mind, dropping in now and again at key points. Personally, I found the static buzz distracting. I didn’t see how it served the play because it didn’t always coincide with a mood shift, unless we were to believe that Elizabeth was somehow talking to us through time via a portal which continuously threatened to close. That could explain why Elizabeth reacted to it, rather than it being something that only the audience experienced. Alternatively, were we to believe that we were communing with her spirit energy? Don’t know on that one. Thoughts anyone?!

      Apart from that particular staging decision, the play was a joy.

      Chastity x

  3. I love your analysis of the electronic interference, Rob. I too had felt that it must be to indicate some sort of altered state. However, like Chastity, I didn’t feel it quite worked. In some ways it felt like a slightly heavy handed staging device to break up 70 minutes of monologue. In fact Vaughan’s performance was so powerful and the script so fascinating that, for me, the device was unnecessary. Jackie x

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