Mary Stuart at Almeida Theatre

  • Theatre
 
Mary Stuart at Almeida Theatre

Published:

Thu, 22/12/2016 - 15:56

By:

paul
Juliet Stevenson as Mary Stuart_credit Manuel Harlan
Juliet Stevenson as Mary Stuart. PHOTO: MANUEL HARLAN
Published: 
22 December, 2016
by HOWARD LOXTON

IN Robert Icke’s modern dress adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s classic drama, the actors assemble on a plain wooden revolving stage, political figures joined by two trousered women. One will play Elizabeth I, the other her cousin Mary Queen of Scots. A spun coin, seen close-up on TV screens, decides who plays which. On this night Lia Williams comes forward and signs her name on a document: Mary. 

She is stripped of her jacket and bundled to prison. Juliet Stevenson signs another paper Elizabeth R with ornate flourishes. Reminders of the role chance plays in history, of the letters said to implicate Mary in murder and plotting, of the death warrant Elizabeth will sign. 

Schiller contrasts the two queens’ personalities; here they often seem two sides of the same coin. Williams’ sharp-witted Mary, imprisoned in Fotheringay, already condemned, clings to the idea that royal rank will protect her. She can outface persecutors like Vincent Franklin’s cold bureaucratic Lord Burleigh or stir emotion in plotting supporters but, after abasing herself before Elizabeth at a Schiller-invented meeting, she abandons restraint and lashes out at Elizabeth, who responds with controlled fury.

Both women are trapped in their situation. Stevenson’s Elizabeth is a wary monarch conscious always of those trying to manipulate her, a firm mask of control occasionally gives way to passion or anger. Scenes with the Earl of Leicester give a glimpse of the private woman. The lover of both queens, John Light makes him an opportunist concerned only with his own advantage.

Rudi Dharmalingam’s duplicitous (fictional) plotter Mortimer keeps you guessing as to which side he is really on. He reveals his real motives in the near rape of the Scots’ queen. It’s another violent outburst in a play, often more text than action, which Icke keeps on the move as characters circle each other or the stage itself turns.

Mary Stuart runs over three hours but the fine playing of this clearly presented verse version grips the attention: they fly by and as Mary prepares for her execution this stunning production presents an image of Elizabeth trapped in her royal role that will be seared on the memory.

UNTIL JANUARY 21, 2017  
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