Review by Emma Whitelaw
ONCE again the Union Theatre plays host to a
quality production that just oozes with talent.
Friedrich Schiller’s Maria Stuart is the
tale of two squabbling sisters. Not just any sisters either, they
are none other than Elizabeth, Queen of England and exiled Scottish
ruler, Mary Stuart.
Two religions divide a people and a land. Both rulers exploit
their own religion in order to control their people. Elizabeth
is threatened by the arrival of her sister.
In a recently Protestantised England, the Virgin Queen realises
the risk a Catholic 'queen in waiting' poses to her throne.
Mary’s head is on the block. Elizabeth wants her dead but
wants no part of it either. Instead, she embarks upon a devious
plot to have her nemesis executed while appearing to be seemingly
innocent to her people.
The contrast between Rebecca Mordan’s Queen Elizabeth and
Lucinda Raikes' Mary Stuart is exquisite.
Mordan’s characterisation is simply stunning; she plays
an almost un-human ruler, cold, brutal bordering on evil. Raikes,
on the other hand, brings a feminine softness to the show; her
talented portrayal of the doomed monarch was indeed delicately
Elizabeth plays her court like pawns, or at least she thinks
Lord Leicester, played by the delightful Nick Ash, has a hidden
agenda. He is the queen’s Beau, yet he plans to undermine
her throne in order to pursue the woman he truly loves, Mary.
He uses his charm to lure Elizabeth into meeting with her enemy.
The meeting is disastrous! Instead
of the shameless beseeching Elizabeth expects from Mary, all she
receives is a hysterical outburst from the woman who’s life
lies in her hands.
Elizabeth is outraged and their courtiers fight hard to keep
the two from breaking into a catfight.
Before the play even begins the audience is well aware of the
fate that awaits Mary. The opening 'photo-lab' scene emphasises
this also, as we see a photomontage Mary dance about the stage
like a puppet only to have her head ripped off. The significance
of this foreshadows what is to come and sets the scene for the
perilous tale that is to come.
The use of props throughout the show was most imaginative; I
particularly liked the way in which poles were used to frame Queen
Elizabeth, as though she were a portrait, cold and untouchable.
The costuming, too, was inventive. Elizabeth, in full Elizabethan
dress, complete with ruff and corset, was juxtaposed against the
rest of the cast in modern attire.
Mary's dresses, too, were indicative of her fate, her darker
velvet dress was replaced by a angelic cream satin, almost ghostlike
gown in the second act.
The drama that lies within British history is indeed a playwright's
dream! Schiller certainly appears to have had fun with Maria
Stuart, yet at the same time his political commentary is
both evocative and compelling.
MARIA STUART by Friedrich Schiller. Translated by Hilary
Collier Sy-Quia and Peter Oswald. Directed by Ryan McBryde. Starring
Livy Armstrong, Nick Ash, John Gorick, Rebecca Morden, David Newman,
Lucinda Raikes, Lesley Stone and Patrick Taggart. Feb 8 to March
5. (7.30pm) (exc. Suns and Mons) at Union Theatre, 204 Union Street,
Southwark SE1 0LX. Box office 020 7621 9876.