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'Swive [Elizabeth]' at the Globe is a powerhouse of a play that offers a savage depiction of the patriarchal power struggles and intense gender dynamics of 17th century England. Elizabeth I's historical status as the Virgin Queen is revisited with a beautiful ferocity and a sardonic undercurrent that culminates in an intoxicating performance and astounding finale.

Ella Hickson's brilliant writing is made apparent from the get-go: the first scene establishes Elizabeth's split role as both an adolescent ruined by an upbringing tainted by death and loss (played by the stunning Nina Cassells), and as an adult woman both infuritated and empowered by the resulting gender and political conflicts (the exhilarating and enigmatic Abigail Cruttenden). The play follows Elizabeth's journey to becoming and reigning as Queen, focusing particularly on her interactions with the court and how they were influenced and affected by her childhood. Her anger at her mother Anne Boleyn's death, her dismay at Mary's desperation for a child and her consternation her sister's failed marriage all contribute to an insanely compelling and rich characterisation.

It would have been particularly easy to slip into power-mad caricatures or ditzy, one-dimensional portrayals of a figure already so well established in the historical and literary canon. It would have been even easier to fall into the trap of the 'strong woman who's only personality traits are those caused by childhood trauma' cliche - however, the detailed relationships and superb dialogue avoid both of these traps entirely. Instead, the vivid characterisation and exceptional writing forge a story of a woman who must fight every step of the way: from her family to her political rivals to her own sex, Elizabeth is not content with simply surviving; she must conquer.

There is also something immensely powerful about this particular play being played in the Sam Wanamaker space at the Globe. The Natalie Abrahami-directed atmosphere is beautifully carried by sumptuous costumes and a gorgeous stage, and candle-master's Prema Mehta's technically and visually impressive lighting only adds to feelings of deep disquiet and uncertainty. The atmosphere reflects the overarching themes of power, beauty and sex; dark shadows and uneasy intentions create a fiercely unpredictable atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire production. Gender and control, authority and violence all merge together to form one very clear message: it might be a man's world, but it's a woman's battle.

Swive [Elizabeth] is on until the February the 15th 2020. Tickets are available for sale here.

Image credit: Johan Persson


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