Mary Stuart plunges us head-first into a dangerous world where Queens send traitors to the tower; Earls commit treachery and public executions are organised at less than twelve hours notice. It is a long way from the carefully orchestrated photo-calls and charity work of William and Kate, the beautiful faces du jour of the British Monarchy. And yet, by telling the story of the last days of Mary, Queen of Scots in a minimalist, pared-down way, The Faction theatre company successfully brings Schiller’s piece, first premiered in 1800, bang up to date.
With its clever use of projections instead of hand-written letters; unfussy costumes that nod towards the 19th century instead of actually taking us there, and slick staging in the shiny new black-box space of the New Diorama, The Faction’s Mary Stuart is a thoroughly modern production. If it was not for the complicated dialogue flying from the actors mouths at break-neck speed, we could be watching a political drama unfold live on Sky News, or an unseen episode of The West Wing.
the real joy is found in watching the highly skilled ensemble of eleven actors work seamlessly together
These modern touches make the production instantly accessible, but the real joy is found in watching the highly skilled ensemble of eleven actors work seamlessly together to pull off tricky scene changes, precise bursts of choreography and a complex execution scene that has the potential to go wrong, but does not.
Derval Mellett brings a cool, icy calm and a Tilda Swinton-esque presence to the role of doomed Mary Stuart, while Kate Sawyer is equally impressive as a confused Queen Elizabeth. Richard Delaney makes a confident, engaging Burleigh; Shai Matheson is amusing as Count Aubespine and Jonny McPherson is sweetly uncertain as Kent, who unexpectedly takes a pivotal role in the story’s action. Tom Radford is compelling as a passionate and impressionable young Mortimer, who flits between the two Monarchs before deciding it’s his mission in life to save Mary Stuart. Bounding on stage in his Barbour jacket fresh from an 18th Century gap year, he has excellent command of dialogue and a beguiling innocence – something which makes his fate all the more distressing.
Overall, The Faction’s Mary Stuart is a carefully constructed, slick piece of theatre which treads the fine line between innovation and tradition exceedingly well.
**** (4 stars)
Runs in repertory until February 18th