Playwright Helen Edmundson presents her initially as a figure of fun – overweight, crippled by gout and unable to bear any more children after 17 pregnancies, most of which ended in miscarriage or stillbirth and none of which resulted in a child still living by the time she ascended the throne.

Edmundson charts the challenges, conflicts and political machinations of her reign (some of which seem remarkably familiar!) through the deterioration of her once intimate friendship with Sarah Churchill, later Duchess of Marlborough.

Outspoken, ambitious and immensely influential, the glamorous and brilliant Sarah seriously oversteps the mark as the previously clingingly dependent Anne proves surprisingly strongminded and stubborn as a monarch, finding her old confidante too harsh, too disrespectful – and too pushy – for the friendship to endure. Even the shared experience of losing a young son, something which should have brought them closer, has the opposite effect, and, to Sarah’s disgust, Anne’s favour turns to unassuming Abigail Hill (Beth Park) – who, ironically, is one of Sarah’s many cousins.

There’s a lot of information to take on board, but Natalie Abrahami’s smooth production for the Royal Shakespeare Company, with fact interspersed with lewd lampoon, keeps up the pace with Romola Garai a strident Sarah dressed always in red and Emma Cunniffe’s dowdy Anne growing in strength despite her physical ailments. Richard Hope impresses as Lord Chancellor Godolphin and, behind the scenes, James Garnon’s Harley is every bit as scheming and as the self-serving Duchess with her high-ranking military spouse.

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Haymarket, SW1Y 4HT

Until 30th September 2017 

£15.00 – £65.00 + premium seats