An Interview with Emma Cunniffe and Romola Garai
| By James Astles
Following a sold out run at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, Helen Edmundson's fascinating play about one of Britain's lesser known rulers transferred to the Theatre Royal Haymarket this June. Emma Cunniffe (Great Expectations, The Crucible), is the titular Queen Anne, a monarch torn between her duty and the plans of her persuasive and manipulative best friend Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, played by Romola Garai (Atonement, The Hour). We grabbed five minutes with the ladies to talk about the production.
Emma and Romola, it's wonderful these days to have a play centred around two fascinating female leads, did that help draw you to the role?
EC: Yes. It was great to read a play about female friendship and power.
RG: Yes, the role of Sarah Churchill is a really fantastic one and I am delighted to be sharing the stage with another woman to perform a play so much about women and power.
The play focuses on an arguably lesser known monarch from Britain's past, Queen Anne. Did you know much about her before taking on the production?
RG: Nothing at all.
EC: No, I didn’t know much about her so it was fascinating to learn about Queen Anne and Sarah Churchill and get to know more about a really interesting period of history.
Emma, the show has transferred from its well-received initial run in Stratford-upon-Avon which you were involved in, are you happy it has made the leap to a wider audience?
Yes, it’s good that more people get to see the show and it’s fun being in the West End for the summer!
The Haymarket itself is such a sumptuous, regal venue - do you think it lends itself to the piece?
EC: It’s a joy to do this play in such a beautiful theatre.
RG: I think the play would benefit from performance in a studio space or a car park! But the Haymarket is also wonderful.
Although not forced there are clearly parallels between events and themes explored in the play and the modern day political climate. Do you see the play more as a political piece or a personal one?
RG: A personal one with political disagreements creating the trigger
EC: It’s both. The politics and the personal interwoven. It’s about power and ambition also.
Romola, you were fairly recently in a very modernised take on Shakespeare's Measure For Measure at The Young Vic. Could you imagine an overtly modernised version of this story?
I can imagine any play being done in any way.
Over the course of the play we see both characters evolve and their relationship with each other changes, would you say that's the pay-off the audience gets in the second half?
EC: Yes. They see how the shifts in status impact on their friendship. Anne grows in strength as the play develops.
RG: Sarah changes in that circumstances change but, the potential to be a flaming bitch was always there.
Queen Anne is playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 30 September. Book your tickets now!
Photo credit: Marc Brenner