Friedrich Schiller; translated by Robert David MacDonald, adapted by Uzma Hameed
Schiller's exploration of the intense rivalry between Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart fits perfectly into the theme of Derby Playhouse's new season of women breaking the mould. But by staging a modern interpretation and trying to put a unique stamp on the production, director Uzma Hameed has stripped it of excitement, movement and colour.
Let's face it, Schiller's play isn't a bundle of laughs. Robert David MacDonald's translation is said to be close to the German original, so it was always going to be a fairly dark offering.
Hameed's modern slant involves costumes which give no indication of regality nor splendour. When there are only two or three actors on stage at a time, they appear distant and unengaging. It means the emphasis is very much on the script - and that's often cumbersome, strung-out and flat.
Hameed makes parallels between the political situation of Elizabeth's era and the fanaticism of the present day, particularly that of the Muslim world. This is done largely with the use of video, an increasingly integral part of Derby Playhouse productions. The video adds to the death scenes, with "blood" spilling onto the backdrop. However, there does seem to be too much reliance on filmed effects.
The play features the last three days of the life of Mary Queen of Scots before her cousin Elizabeth signs her death warrant. It's not factually accurate because Schiller engineers a meeting between the two women which never happened. But it gives the two leading characters the chance to express their feelings of jealousy and bitterness towards each other.
Chloe Angharad gives a strong performance as Mary, feisty, scheming, eager for power and always optimistic of ending her feud with the queen if she can confront her face to face.
Hilary Tones, who gave a splendid performance as Shirley Valentine at the Playhouse last year, is solid without being outstanding as Elizabeth. This may be due in part to her costume - I could never look on her as a royal. In the first half she looks like she's going out for a drink with the girls as she's wearing a cocktail-style dress. After the interval, she dons a cardigan and looks as though she's ready to go out for a game of bingo!
Michael Cronin adds gravitas as Burleigh, Elizabeth's gruff, power-mad adviser who pursues his own agenda as he refuses to let the queen have everything her own way in what was undoubtedly a male-dominated world.
The acting is almost faultless - but it's the staging that's at the root of the problem. It's fairly dull, lifeless and uninspiring.
This is the first time that the Playhouse and the Big Picture Company, of which Hameed is artistic director, have worked together. Future plans include taking Mary Stuart on a national and international tour next year.
At the moment the second half of the play in which Mary meets her end is slightly more stimulating than the first. But generally the production lacks the sparkle and spirit which typified both Elizabeth and Mary.
"Mary Stuart" runs until March 26th
Reviewer: Steve Orme