Beguiled, bereaved and betrayed - Will Tuckett Elizabeth imagines the ill-fated romances of the Virgin Queen. Tuckett draws on the monarch's own writings and those of her contemporaries to fashion a full-length work, blending spoken word, dance and music to convey the tumultuous affairs of Elizabeth I.    

Carlos Acosta has his work cut out, depicting all four of Elizabeth's suitors. There's a twinkle in his eye as he portrays the clumsy and exuberant Duc d'Anjou and the brash Sir Walter Raleigh. Keen to impress, he springs like a harrier jump jet, seeming to hover in mid air. Playing Lord Leicester, Acosta romances the newly-crowned Elizabeth seeking status and wealth. But it is the treacherous Earl of Essex – wooing her with a giddy series of turns – who commits the ultimate betrayal. When his unsuccessful coup is exposed, Elizabeth sends him to the Tower and a traitor's death.

Zenaida Yanowsky in <i>Elizabeth</i> © ROH, 2016 | Photographed by Andrej Uspenski
Zenaida Yanowsky in Elizabeth
© ROH, 2016 | Photographed by Andrej Uspenski
Elizabeth suffers at the hands of these noble cads. Zenaida Yanowsky's characterisation of the Tudor sovereign simmers with emotional intensity. She sustains the dramatic tension between Elizabeth the Queen, set apart and revered, and Elizabeth the woman, seeking companionship and affection.

This is a work for dancers and actors. Alasdair Middleton's text weaves song, poetry and letters together into a vivid tapestry of personal intrigue. Sonya Cullingford and Julia Righton narrate the action, but also work with Yanowsky to develop Elizabeth's character. Tuckett intertwines spoken word with gesture. Like a recitative, the dancers' bodies adopt the rhythm of everyday speech. There's an element of mime, but a jutting hip and an undulation of the spine catch the intonation and meaning behind the words. Tuckett uses this to good effect accentuating Elizabeth's infamous sharp-tongued wit. David Kempster is an avuncular presence. His rich rolling baritone illuminates the emotional narrative from mountain top protestations of love to the soulful lament of a grieving heart.

Costume designer Fay Fullerton echoes Elizabethan opulence with sumptuous fabrics and embroidery. On a bare stage, the only piece of set is a huge screen painted in gold and red, permeating the space with a velvety, voluptuous glow. But the structure of the work feels somewhat laboured and predictable. At times Tuckett's choreography lacks variety, particularly in key duets between Acosta and Yanowsky. Without Fullerton's beautiful costumes, it would have been hard to distinguish between the Queen's liaisons.

Zenaida Yanowsky and Carlos Acosta in <i>Elizabeth</i> © ROH, 2016 | Photographed by Andrej Uspenski
Zenaida Yanowsky and Carlos Acosta in Elizabeth
© ROH, 2016 | Photographed by Andrej Uspenski
The work ends – as it begins – with an account of the monarch's final days. This holds a contemporary resonance as Tuckett's production brings to fruition a period of history in the Royal Opera House. Acosta performs in his final role for the Royal Ballet and the Linbury Theatre closes it doors in readiness for a major refurbishment. But with an eye on the immediate future, Elizabeth also marks the start of a year-long series of events and performances commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare death. Indeed, Acosta and Yanowsky capture the intimacy of Elizabeth's closest relationships with all the hallmarks of a Shakespearean tragedy.