Review: The Red Queen and Other Monsters (Hope Mill Theatre)

I’ve been taking a break on home turf in the North West of England, so getting a chance to review a production at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester was a nice perk of the trip.

Based in New Islington, a short walk from Piccadilly station or even shorter from the tram stop, this theatre is based in the historic Hope Mill (a cotton mill built in 1824 and run by steam).

The theatre dates from 2015, when industry power couple William Wheldon and Joseph Houston moved from London and created this independent fringe venue. It is small, welcoming, and quirky.

Production photo for The Red Queen

On to the show, which is a stop-off by theatre company Ink and Curtain. The Red Queen and Other Monsters takes a handful of women we know from classic literature and allow them to tell their own stories.

Medea, Lady Capulet and Juliet, the warrior queen Margaret of Anjou, Electra and Clytemnestra, and the three daughters of King Lear are the characters we meet here – in a world dominated by the rights of men, they are seen as wicked due to their sex.

This is a story of mothers, daughters and sisters. Written by Faye Draper (who plays Lady Capulet and Goneril) and Maz Hedgehog, and directed by Misha Duncan-Barry, this is diverting female-led drama bringing these women to life.

It may have helped to have more context on the characters we were watching: Romeo and Juliet and King Lear may be generally known, but the stories of Medea and Electra both name-check many people casual audiences may not be familiar with.

Production image for The Red Queen

Having said that, the acting is strong throughout with all four actors (Draper, Janelle Thompson, Solaya Sang, and Emelia Coles) having their moment in the spotlight. These women revel in their choices and celebrate their crimes.

Thompson’s Margaret and Clytemnestra are both strong monarchs, but their experiences as mothers are very different. The Red Queen’s monologues are enthralling, while the mother-daughter to and fro benefits from Sang’s spiky and damaged Electra.

Although no men are on the stage, they are present as husbands, sons, fathers. Good men and bad, misguided men and devious ones. When Medea (a chilling Sang), Goneril and Queen Margaret think and act like men, they are shunned or sent to destruction.

Production image for The Red Queen

The world of The Red Queen, as Lady Capulet (forced at 12 to marry a middle-aged man and bear him a child within a year), tells her daughter Juliet (a delicate Coles), “isn’t fair”. These are tales of women as second-class, forced to desperate measures – but on their own terms.

Set against the theatre’s black box, Sorcha Corcoran and Liv Davies’s design boasts a large checkered floor, coloured spotlights, and three crates that suggest anything from bed to prison cell. Aaliyah Barry’s costumes delineate each character with a memorable look.

Running at a little over the advertised 90-minutes, The Red Queen could do with a slightly faster pace and perhaps more incidental music to add colour, but this is a production worth catching if only to give these women of mythology, literature and history their due.

The Red Queen and Other Monsters runs at Hope Mill Theatre until 23 Jul: tickets here. It then heads to Shakespeare North Playhouse from 28-30 Jul with tickets here.


Image credit: Shay Rowan