Review: The Sea Queen

3 star rating
Music and songs flavour this light but intriguing sketch of Grainne O'Malley's extraordinary life as a sixteenth century sea captain and pirate, describing a formidable woman.
The Sea Queen at The Scoop

Image courtesy Gods and Monsters Theatre


Theatre: The Scoop

Closes here: Sunday 1 September 2019

Author:
Daniel Winder

Composer:
Matthew Bugg

Director:
Rae Mcken

Cast:

Tim Bowie - Conor

George Caporn - Donal

Melanie Gleeson - Bingham

Acushla-Tara Kupe - Essex/ Young Tracer

Feyesa Wakjira - Aderfi

Veronica Beatrice Lewis - Queen Elizabeth

Heidi Lynch - Sean/ Lady in Waiting

Stephanie MacGaraidh - Grainne

Lorenzo Martelli - Dubhdara/ Cecil/ Senior

Itoya Osagiede - Tom Butler


Synopsis


Join Grainne O'Malley; pirate, chieftain and Irish queen of the seas, as she sets sail on her greatest adventure yet.


Her family are prisoners, held in the dark dungeons of Dublin Castle by the evil Sir Richard Bingham.


To save their lives she must embark for London, overcoming storms, buccaneers, and mutiny, before finally facing her implacable foe; England's Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I.


Based on the true story of Ireland's legendary 16th century heroine, this voyage is for anyone who has dreamed of an ocean adventure.


Come dance a jig, sing a sea shanty and live the life of a sea queen.


Background


Part of London's Free Open Air Theatre Season.


Post Show Talks:

Join the team for post show discussions with the  team behind this year's season of free theatre. Sunday 11, 18 and 25 August 19:45 - 20:30.


ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Thursday 15 August 2019
Review star rating image

The Sea Queen is currently playing as part of London's Free Open Air Theatre Season at The Scoop, at More London.


The other show in the season is Shakespeare's popular comedy, Twelfth Night.


Both shows play until 1 September with The Sea Queen starting at 6pm (Wednesday to Saturday) and 4pm on Sundays.


Twelfth Night can be seen at 8pm (Wednesdays to Saturdays) and at 6pm on Sundays.


If you're unfamiliar with The Scoop, it's an amphitheatre just alongside the banks of the Thames, nestled on the outskirts of a substantial complex of offices and shops, near to London Bridge station.


This is the sixteenth year of this rather magical open air theatre concept.


The big draw, of course, is that it is completely free which certainly encourages those who have never been to the theatre before to take the plunge and watch a show.


And, since no booking is required, you can just turn up on your own or with family and friends, take a seat, sit back and watch.


Every time I head to The Scoop, I find families busily guzzling picnic food they've brought along, which adds to the nature of the event, but doesn't seem to interfere with the enjoyment of the shows, which are generally watched intently by everyone in the audience.


The Scoop itself is an amphitheatre made of large blocks of stone that provide spacious seating, with ample space for people to move along the rows to find seats.


Since this is open air theatre, the vagaries of the weather need to be taken into account, and the busy location (a very popular tourist thoroughfare) does mean there are times when extraneous sounds impinge a little during shows.


But with the actors adorned with radio microphones, and the venue sunk below the main level of the surrounding pavements, audibility is mostly not a particular issue.


(Note: since we list the two shows in this season separately, we've included the information above in both our reviews).

Cast of The Sea Queen at The Scoop

(From left) Feyesa Wakjira as Aderfi, Tim Bowie as Conor, Stephanie MacGaraidh as Grainne, George Caporn as Donal, and Heidi Lynch as Sean - photo by Liz Isles


The first and shorter of the two shows on offer this year, The Sea Queen gives us a flavour of the remarkable life and character of Grainne O'Malley (1530 to 1603).


If, like me, you've never actually heard of this formidable woman before, then you're in for something of an eye-opener - even if this is not a comprehensive biographical drama.


In fact, writer Daniel Winder readily admits that his play only scratches the surface of a complex character and that he's taken "lots of liberties with both the timeline and factual detail".


In one sense that doesn't matter because it would require a lengthy, possibly 3 hour show, or even more to cover Grainne O'Malley's adventures and life story.


So this show is an introductory sketch rather than something more substantial.


But it does introduce us to an extraordinary person who, at a time when women were supposed to be at home cooking, cleaning and rearing (many) children, opted for a life largely spent on ships as a sea captain whose fleet dominated the coastal waters of Ireland.


The Sound of Music almost springs to mind as Grainne's Da sings to us about what he's going to do about his daughter (rather like the nuns did about Maria).


His song is something of a tear-jerker, but doesn't prevent Grainne from getting her way and setting sail.


In this fast-moving tale, we eventually find Grainne at the top of her seafaring game and meeting the equally formidable woman, Queen Elizabeth I, to gain a pardon for her brother, preventing him from mounting the gallows.

Veronica Beatrice Lewis as Queen Elizabeth in The Sea Queen

Veronica Beatrice Lewis as Queen Elizabeth - photo by Liz Isles


Veronica Beatrice Lewis makes for a resplendent queen, adorned with a suitably outlandish frock in the style only Elizabeth could have worn.


As a whole, the play seemed to miss a trick by not inserting more humour into proceedings, especially since this is a family show.


Rather wordy narrative in later scenes seemed to switch-off some of the smaller members of the audience for a time, and the staging needed more variety and flair in positioning the actors to enrich the action by giving them more to do than merely standing in situ.


Matthew Bugg provides some interesting - sometimes charming - compositions which pepper the entire play, turning it into something more like a musical, or at least a play with a strong lacing of songs.


And there's a lovely latin chant for the Queen's flamboyant entrance


Sketch though it may be, there's enough about Ms O'Malley here to make us want to learn much more about a strong and fascinating historical character (and you can make a start on that right here).



ActDrop listing for The Scoop
Our show listing for The Sea Queen
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