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Elizabeth review at the Barbican Theatre – ‘enervating depiction of Elizabeth I’

Zenaida Yanowsky in Elizabeth at the Barbican Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton Zenaida Yanowsky in Elizabeth at the Barbican Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Elizabeth I was an astonishing woman and an enduring royal icon. Not that you’d know it from Will Tuckett’s chamber ballet, first seen at the Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, in 2013 and subsequently at the Linbury Studio Theatre three years later.

Time has not been kind to it. What seemed an amusing divertissement in the intimate confines of the Linbury is mercilessly exposed on the vast Barbican stage. Against a simple Klimt-like panel the allegedly retired Royal Ballet principal Zenaida Yanowsky encounters and rejects a handful of suitors while actors recite poetry from the period to the accompaniment of a lone cello. It is like watching a variation on Portia’s casket scene in The Merchant of Venice, sans caskets.

One of the Royal Ballet’s most elegantly imperious dancers, Yanowsky still moves with exquisite languor, her attenuated limbs stretching out like Mr Fantastic, but too often she descends into melodramatic phrasing and silent-movie histrionics. There are fleeting moments of drama; pulsing and jerking, a foot snatched from the floor as if it were red hot, Yanowsky conveys Elizabeth’s dying days effectively. But her dignity is diminished.

Tuckett’s choreography is far too literal, pedestrian and ploddingly illustrative when it should be interpretive and inventive. There is a mild frisson in watching Yanowsky’s brother, Yury, play all the suitors. He is a technically fine dancer, but he fails to make any clear distinction between the suitors, in spite of having a Daniel Day Lewis thing going on. His Walter Raleigh is more Sir Andrew Aguecheek than warrior poet.

The dreary score, apparently inspired by Tallis, Dowland, Gibbons and the usual Elizabethan suspects, gives precious little for the dancers to get their feet into. A handsomely-caparisoned but facile and enervating evening.

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Pedestrian and enervating depiction of Elizabeth I and her would-be lovers