Mary Stuart

Friedrich Schiller
The Faction Theatre
New Diorama Theatre

Mary Stuart is set in Elizabethan England, where Queen Elizabeth has to decide whether to execute the upstart Mary, Queen of Scotts. The focus here isn't on actual history, many of the play's set pieces are imagined, but on the psychological complexities of each character. As the two Queens assert themselves, one from the Tower of London, the other from the royal court, the subtle divisions between the country's different factions widen.

So it's a good thing that each of the actors on stage has the stage presence and ability to flesh out their roles. Kate Sawyer as Elizabeth is a compelling mix of caution, confusion and rationality. Gareth Fordred as Leicester, Elizabeth's most trusted advisor, manages to be both believably double faced and fragile while Mary, played by Derval Mellett, proves stunning as regal and animal. Even the actors that seem underused come into their own the moment they start talking. This ensemble, the Faction Theatre, brings not only life and power to its script, but also a pounding rhythm to each of its actors, with a perfectly synchronised, pulsating movement.

This is a play about the interrelations between the characters and the strain of power, where the contemporary touches with executions wearing Guantanamo Bay hoods or talk of 'clear and present danger', add depth and relevance without seeming shoehorned in. The rewriting of the script by Mark Leipacher and Daniel Millar is excellent, adding power and fluidity to an 18th century work without losing the richness of each character. It's also very clever to introduce each character early, from when they're first mentioned, by having them present themselves at the back of the stage with their name projected onto the wall in big white letters.

This wasn't flawless, with some of the subtlety built up in the first half cheapened by having a too-perfect Mary and a too-callous Elizabeth in the second, giving in slightly to Schiller's overly romantic original conception. Some of the costume designs were questionable, particularly the 'conceptual' dressed worn by Mary and Kennedy.

But overall this was a fresh, lucid and complex play with an open-eyed and clever direction. There was a rawness to the acting and a general fearlessness. Very much recommended.

Reviewer: Tobias Chapple