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Scary Little Girls present a night of horrendous sibling rivalry

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 beautiful.

Elizabeth plays her court like pawns, or at least she thinks she does.

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.

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