It might be true that Brandy was first performed in 2010 at South London Theatre, but it’s still impossible not to view this production through the lens of Yorgos Lanthimos’ 2019 Oscar winning film, The Favourite. After all, Brandy also tells the story of Queen Anne and her complex love-hate relationship with her close confident, the beautiful and ambitious Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough.
A well conceived and sharply executed drama
Niki Mylonas plays the cantankerous Queen Anne brilliantly. Never moving from her bed, she still manages to fill the room with her presence. From one moment to the next, you never know which Anne you’ll be getting. Maybe the Anne who truly believes in her regal duty and divine right to rule? The jealous Anne who envies her friend’s glamour and success? Or perhaps grieving Anne, who yearns for the companionship her dead husband and children? Mylonas is never afraid to make the audience laugh with a well placed groan, but her portrayal is also sensitive enough to make us pity Anne. You can feel her grief bubbling underneath every word.
As her friend and adversary, Zoe Teverson plays Sarah Churchill with arch malice, often directing her speeches out to the audience rather than to Anne. She is engaging and charismatic, with enough clout to rival Anne’s scene stealing. Laura Gamble’s amiably plays Mary the Maid, who foreshadows the seemingly endless struggles for power. However, she is underused and spends much of the time on set acting if she is not there at all. It’s an odd choice in a small space, where Sarah Churchill’s magnificent gown takes up much of the room whenever she’s on stage.
Regardless, the power play between the two leads makes for a fascinating watch, as they wrestle each other for the upper hand, their barbed comments acting as weapons. These are complex women. They are both dislikeable, admiring ambition and power over all things including their once close friendship, but it’s also easy to sympathise for women whose lives have never been easy in a male dominated, hetero-normative world. Scriptwriter Matthew Davies never shies away from giving his characters monstrous moments, most memorably when Sarah Churchill admits to never loving her children and Queen Anne acts as a sexual predator. It’s a sharp witted script, reminiscent of the verbal onslaught of a classic screwball comedy or the social satire of the Jacobean era.
In many ways, this might be the interpretation of Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill’s story that some people expected to see when they watched The Favourite. Without the film’s abstract soundtrack and rabbit obsession, Brandy is certainly a more traditional period piece. This is a well conceived and sharply executed drama with a convincing script and stellar cast, proving once again that the once almost forgotten Queen Anne is ripe for theatrical re-evaluation.