Tuesday, 20 August 2019

REVIEW: Queen of the Mist at Charing Cross Theatre

Queen of the Mist is an operatic treat for anyone who’d like to spend an evening surrounded by beautiful voices, live music, a kick ass main character and lots of emotion. I say “surrounded”, as the audience is split into two parts, and seated on both ends of the stage. This creates quite an interesting effect of looking through a glass ball into this very particular time.

We are in upstate New York at the turn of the 20th century, in 1901. This is the story of 63 year-old Anna Edson Taylor who, in an era of daredevils and sensational performers (Houdini’s reputation was growing across Europe), announces she will be the first person to cross the Niagara in a barrel, even going over the edge, something no one has ever come out alive from before. Many tried in various forms of boats, but the barrel is a new idea. With the help of her manager Frank Russell (Will Arundell), she will spread the word, and succeed, not even hurting herself. 

In the second part of the show, things take a slightly darker turn. We see Anna getting older, losing her eyesight, and trying to hold onto her dignity by refusing to share her emotional memories about this unique experience.

What is interesting here is that while primarily she went on this crazy adventure for money, hoping to make millions, she didn’t make any. Then, when people wanted to know more about how she felt in the barrel, she remained quiet. You can only sell your soul to a certain degree. That is your power: if you remain quiet, you can forever protect your thoughts. 

The set design by Tara Usher, who also created the beautiful costumes together with Lemington Ridley, consists of multiple shelves of different sizes which come apart to help with the plot. They are filled with memorabilia and objects that all have a significance in terms of identity and personal history. Combined with the lighting by Beth Gupwell and the misty atmosphere, there is a warmth but also eerie sense created that transports the audience.

The Australian lead actress Trudi Camilleri is funny, bold and heart-breaking as
Anna. Her independence, strong will and loyalty to herself make her a kind of hero. She is an artist, a dance teacher and a scientist. Her sister, played by Emily Juler, puts her up patiently. Juler sings beautifully, as does the rest of the ensemble, and later becomes surprising as “The Blonde” impersonator. There is some lovely humour in the middle of this unusual story, with references ringing true today, commenting on fame, greed, ambition and self-determination. It feels particularly American when Anna says she is her own territory and needs no one’s approval.

Head down to the Charing Cross Theatre before the 5th of October for an unusual but inspiring story filled with light and gorgeous singing.

Review by Sophie Tergeist

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: P9 | Price of Ticket: £35.50
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