Charing Cross Theatre (venue)
19 August 2019 (released)
25 August 2019
A 63-year old woman refuses to fade away and decides to embark on a daredevil stunt to make money. No, not Madonna’s latest tour, but Annie Edison Taylor in 1901 who wants to be the first person to survive going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
The musical opens with the emotive song ‘There is Greatness In Me’ as Annie (Trudy Camilleri) is threatened with eviction and the poorhouse. Camilleri is an extraordinarily powerful vocal presence who is on stage for just about the entire play and imbues Annie with a determined fragility.
She goes to Niagara Falls and watches as money scatters around those who promise spectacle connected to the Falls – even if it results in their death. With nothing to lose, and as a woman with a scientific mind who has spent a lot of time watching the layout of the Falls, she believes she can do it. She enlists heavy drinking charlatan Frank Russell (Will Arundell) as her manager, and the pair plan the stunt.
The voices assembled for Queen of the Mist are superb and manage, through a compact cast of Emily Juler, Emma Ralston, Tom Blackmore, Conor McFarlane and Andrew Carter (the last with a glorious bass vocal), to convey the various crowds of onlookers at different points in the story. The set design by Tara Usher is a clever set of shelves stuffed with knickknacks, which slide out to create stairs and balconies, the characters becoming part of the dusty paraphernalia.
But the story does its own plummet in the second half, as Annie seems to argue with or be lectured by every single character who crosses the stage. It’s not clear whose side the audience is supposed to be on, but the constant conflict is monotonous. Her barrel is stolen, the money she anticipated is swindled from her and as the First World War begins she is reduced to sitting by the Falls at a table, selling commemorative postcards which no one buys. Perhaps it’s a salutary lesson for Madonna, but it’s not entirely clear what the moral of the story is meant to be.
Until 5 October, Charing Cross Theatre. Search tickets below.