Swive

Date 24th March 2023
Society Richmond Amateur Dramatic Society
Venue The Georgian Theatre Royal
Type of Production Play
Director Gregan Davis
Written By Ella Hickson

Report

Author: John Holliday

One of my favourite things about the Society RADS is that they are not afraid to tackle new and exciting scripts from a vast array of genres, it was therefore very exciting to get to see and review this production of Swive, originally premiered just 4 years previously and written by Ella Hickson.

Director Gregan Davis in his notes proudly wrote how he spent a considerable time during the lockdown years researching the years this play covers around Elizabeth 1st, from her early years as an outcast “Royal” through to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots.

This research and detail was evident from the start and by using a highly effective bare stage (just a crest of arms to be seen) and tv screens to update us on the historic timelines, it created a blank canvas for the cast to work their magic.

Prior to the show starting the audience were treated to some Medieval musical entertainment from the group Trouvere which got everyone in the mood drawing us in to the feeling of being in the centre of a Tudor ballroom. Their interludes would follow throughout the show making each scene change slick and in theme with the show.

It is a word I very seldomly use however the casting and character portrayal from every single member was truly sublime.

As expected the play focusses on 2 main time periods of Queen Elizabeth I and in this production we had Charlotte Finn playing the young Princess in Act One and then Beki Harrison as the elder version in Act Two.

Charlotte opened the main part of the play re-enacting the horror and terrors of being locked away, alone and in darkness as her mother is executed – her words were piercing as she delivered a highly emotional re-enactment which was complimented by some clever lighting. Throughout her scenes she interacted wonderfully with fellow cast members, especially Helena Langford who gave us some great changes in character as Catherine Parr from a warm loving mother figure to a jealous and quite viscous rival and enemy of Elizabeth – a great portrayal.

Charlotte managed with ease to show so many sides of this complex historical figure, from a naïve and vulnerable teenager to a young lady clearly aware of how to manipulate those around her with skill and ease. It was quite simply a wonderful performance and the transition between her and Beki Harrison as her elder self was so slick and seamless.

Beki gave us a grown up and more determined version, clearly still shaken and affected by events in her past but with an edge and fight in her. Every word had meaning, and a purpose and she was completely believable in the role. For 2 very wordy roles neither actress gave us a pause or hesitation that was not used for effect or dramatic tension, incredibly impressive.

Her Friendship with Robert Dudley, played by the excellent Edward Batchelor was lovely to watch and you could clearly see the complex love and bond these 2 held together. As with so much of this show it had us asking so many questions, was Elizabeth so focused she didn’t have time for marriage? Were her early years so troubled she couldn’t truly trust anyone that closely?

The list is endless however what is clear is the relationship created by these 2 very talented actors painted a wonderful picture of devotion to each-other even if their individual stations could never let it be anything more than friendship.

The one constant character in the story was William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, and chief advisor and “confident” to Elizabeth. Having seen Charlie Grumbley in many minor roles over the last few years it was a joy to see him take on this crucial part and he gave us his best performance to date. Effortlessly switching between the many sides of this character, from loyal aide, a devoted servant to a cruel manipulator of Elizabeth and those around him.

This was a relatively small cast but each of them gave their all to  the roles; James Sanderson giving us a quite creepy and unsettling Thomas Seymour; Eleanor Harland playing a very manipulated Katherine Grey to great effect, interacting brilliantly with Elizabeth and giving us a rollercoaster of emotions right through to her sad execution at the order of the lady she felt closest to; Jodie Martin, in an appearance as long as her reign, played Mary Tudor wonderfully - standing up to Elizabeth with a sharp tongue and a real robustness of character; their stand-offs were a joy to watch.

Of course every good royal court needs serving hands and Lee Bowles bounced in and out of scenes with a great energy and pace alongside Alex Caffrey as the washerwoman who brought some lovely light and humour to the show. Her interactions with Elizabeth were fabulous and it was as if she was acting as her conscious and deeper thoughts at times as the 2 of them, from polar opposite sides of society quizzed each other – another great side to this play.

As I looked around the audience throughout this production there was never any chat with nobody’s focus leaving the stage – aside from the laughs and appreciation it was pure silence – a great acknowledgement of the wonderful performance we were witnessing.

Everything just worked perfectly, the costumes were fantastic, make-up was perfect, lighting and stage design was exactly what was needed and the pace and quality of acting exceptional.

Thank you to Gregan for finding this play and bringing it to the perfect setting in the Georgian Theatre, it is one of the best plays I have ever seen by RADS and certainly left me even more intrigued by the characters and this period of History.