Thursday, 6 September 2012

Theatre review: Mary Stuart

The main reason I've added the New Diorama to the list of theatres I keep an eye on is that the excellent Faction theatre company seem to have made it their base of operations. I skipped their first repertory season earlier in the year because I didn't want to add another venue to my collection when I have too many to keep up with already. But a second season has now been added for 2013, so it seemed silly to keep avoiding a company whose work I've always enjoyed in the past. In the meantime one of the productions from the first rep season has returned on its own prior to a small tour: The Faction have always expressed a particular interest in staging the works of Friedrich Schiller, and director Mark Leipacher has now turned to Mary Stuart, which he and Daniel Millar have written a new translation for. The story is the classic clash between two powerful women: Queen Elizabeth I, wanting to cement her power in the face of Catholic plots; and the figurehead for those rebels, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, currently imprisoned.

The company have made the best of a fairly soulless venue in a stripped-down production on a bare black stage, with a hard metallic look to the props and modern-dress costumes (no designer is credited.) Some of the clothes have a bit of an '80s feel and I liked the witty little visual references making modern suits echo Elizabethan clothing. Derval Mellett's Mary is the stoical martyr figure, aware from the start of the play that her execution is a possibility, calm in her religious convictions and insisting right to the end that she never personally approved the terrorist attacks made in her name. Kate Sawyer's Thatcheresque Elizabeth on the other hand is under constant assault both from the various recommendations of her courtiers, who each has his own agenda, and from her own moral conflict surrounding her cousin and rival: She desperately wants Mary dead and gone, but to approve the execution would be regicide, a crime she fears having attached to her name forever. She's willing to go to pretty devious lengths to get what she wants without technically getting blood on her hands.

Though the programme notes, and the occasional choice of wording in the translation, hint at modern relevance, the actual production doesn't labour the point. Instead, as seems to be one of Leipacher's trademarks, the focus is on clarity of storytelling and a brisk pace - almost too brisk at times, the breathlessness of some of the early expositional scenes is exhausting to watch, never mind what it might be like to perform. But on the whole this way of getting through the text is one I approve of, zipping though the early scenes (with some projections, also uncredited, helping clarify the exposition) leaves time to breathe later on, the actors able to slow down for the emotional later acts without the audience having got bored in the lead-up to them. Mary Stuart is a back-and-forth of shifting allegiances, double agents and moral dilemmas that's given an imaginative but clear treatment by a company who continue to impress, and with two strong but contrasting central female performances.

Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller, in a version by Mark Leipacher and Daniel Millar, is booking until the 22nd of September at the New Diorama Theatre; then touring to Buxton, Kendal, Dulwich and Qatar.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

No comments:

Post a Comment