“I know all that goes on in my kingdom”, states Elizabeth I in an imperious voice – and we learn why she’d need to be on the alert as this play, which incredibly is based on her own words, unfolds. Rebecca Vaughan owns the stage in the title role, and her nuanced performance evokes a woman who faces tough decisions yet is a force to be reckoned with. I, Elizabeth is a powerful one-woman show that succeeds in portraying the Tudor queen with a lot of depth.
There is no plot; instead it’s set in the early part of Elizabeth’s reign, as she considers various threats to her power. Following a petition from Parliament, Elizabeth is caught in a Catch-22 situation: she can only create stability and reduce the threat from Mary Queen of Scots by marrying, yet there’s no man she can marry without causing further problems. There’s also trouble brewing abroad; defiantly, she says she’s “more afraid of making a fault in my Latin” than of France and Spain, even as they’re circling round England.
Rebecca Vaughan pulls off the demanding role with aptitude, and succeeds in captivating the audience for over an hour. Even at her most vulnerable, as she frets for the future of the country she says she is married to, Elizabeth exudes a credible air of regal power and leaves the audience in no doubt of her “princely intelligence”. The simple set meanwhile strikes a good balance of creating royal surroundings without distracting from the focus of Elizabeth herself.
I found it particularly intriguing that the script is constructed from Elizabeth’s actual writings, which succeed in bringing her to life in a genuinely unnerving way. It makes for a piece of theatre which isn’t always easy to follow, and people who aren’t interested in 16th century history may struggle with the historical references; but it’s certainly worth putting the effort in.
Elizabeth is a figure who ultimately had to go it alone, and a charismatic one-woman show is the ideal way to bring her to life. It’s a play which will go down best with those who already have more than a passing interest in history – but offers a real treat for those who do fall into this category.