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The Queen is Mad | The Lion and Unicorn Theatre

Joanna the Mad, older sister of Catherine of Aragon, has been saddled with an unfortunate moniker. Usurped by her father and husband after inheriting the throne of Castile, she is remembered chiefly for the madness of which they accused her. But as she tells audiences in Pinecone Performance Lab’s new musical The Queen is Mad, she isn’t mad, she’s furious.

Joanna (Natasha Hoeberigs) is introduced to the audience as a spirited young woman chafing under her father Ferdinand’s (Alan Vicary) control. She is initially unhappy about her planned marriage to Philip (Brian Raftery), but comes to see it as an opportunity to escape and take control of her life. Unfortunately, it turns out to be anything but, setting off a chain of events which ends with her locked away and believed to be mad by the court and country that should be hers to rule.

Hoeberigs instantly endears Joanna to her audience, and transports us through her complex emotional journey with aplomb. As Philip, Raftery crackles with dangerous energy, while Vicary cuts a menacing background figure, that is when he isn’t reducing the audience to fits of giggles with his comedic delivery of the repeatedly-sung line ‘King Ferdinand’. Raftery and Vicary also perform other ensemble roles when needed, although the action largely focuses on Joanna alone and her interactions with her husband and father.

The Queen is Mad’s greatest strength is in its songs, with lyrics from writer-director Amy Clare Tasker and musical director Tom James McGrath, and music also from McGrath. From opening number ‘Castile’, the songs ground us firmly both in the setting and in Joanna’s emotional state, with repeated reprises also highlighting her decline. Hoeberigs is given plenty of space to showcase her vocals and she does so skilfully, particularly in the dramatic climax to ‘Locked Away’.  

Set-dressing is minimal, and the piece instead relies on narration and movement to set the scene. Largely, this suffices, particularly when combined with sound design from Tom James McGrath to show Joanna being locked away.

Despite its sixteenth-century setting, the actors wear contemporary clothing, reminding us that the epithet of ‘mad’ is one still commonly levelled at women and that the show’s themes of abuse and mental illness remain very much current.

As the show attempts to fit close to sixty years of history into a mere sixty minutes, it is inevitable that it can feel a little rushed in places, without sufficient time to linger on one development before we are thrust into the next. Time skips, particularly within songs, can also run the risk of leaving the audience behind. But this is partly a function of the fringe setting, and would be fairly easily resolved given more breathing room and perhaps a change in the set design to include some visual representation of time passing.

By turns funny, heartbreaking and rage-inducing, The Queen is Mad deserves a much brighter future than the one Joanna was given, and I hope to see it join the ranks of historical musicals captivating the hearts of theatregoers across the country. But until then, you’d be mad to miss out on this short run.


The Queen is Mad runs at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 23 March, For more information and tickets, follow the link here.


AD | gifted tickets in return for an honest review | photography by Lexi Clare


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