Mary Stuart

First of all: Oh. Dear. God.

Second of all: I would say run, don’t walk, to see the Stratford Festival’s production of Mary Stuart at the Tom Patterson Theatre, except that it has sold out its run, been extended by four weeks, and sold that out too.

I’ve wanted to see the show since the casting was announced last year, and it did not disappoint. Seana McKenna, as Queen Elizabeth, and Lucy Peacock, as Mary Queen of Scots, going head to head was a sight to see. I adore both of them, and would watch either or both of them read the phone book with complete delight. Here, as two of history’s most powerful women, they shone. And they were ably supported by a strong cast, including Ben Carlson and Geraint Wyn Davies, who are two more of my personal favourites.

I didn’t love the way the script dealt with Elizabeth, especially toward the end, but Seana McKenna had me absolutely riveted with her performance. And in a situation where these two queens were facing off, bound in conflict, the audience never picked sides. We loved both of them, empathised with both of them, and we were rooting for them to put aside their pride and come to some kind of understanding. All the while knowing how it would end.

The audience was on board from the beginning of the play. They laughed in all the right places, and there was a low, delighted tone to it, of absolute complicity. During the pivotal scenes, the audience was silent – no rustling, no fidgeting, no coughing. We hung on every word. And during Mary’s last rites… I gasped – actually gasped – when she came out with her head shorn, and I dripped tears into my lap as she said her goodbyes to her servants.

The man sitting next to me was, I discovered, a fellow theatre professional. And there were a couple of moments we shared, when I felt a low hum rising in my throat and then heard him next to me chuckle softly. Both were sounds of utter satisfaction at a piece of staging so perfect in its moment, so simple and yet so effective, that it took us with surprise and delight. I was in love as much with the staging, with the lighting, with the music, as I was with the performances. This was one of those rare productions where every single aspect hit the right note at the right time. This is what theatre is meant to be. It doesn’t need to be expensive razzle-dazzle. It just needs to be done well, and with love.

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2 thoughts on “Mary Stuart

  1. For a different dramatic take on the story — albeit small screen, not stage — check out an episode of Simon Schama’s History of Britain BBC doc series from 2000. Episode Seven: The Body of the Queen.

    • I will definitely look that up at some point. In return I will recommend Elizabeth Rex – a Stratford production from several years ago that was filmed – for my favourite interpretation of Queen Elizabeth. No Mary Stuart in that one, though.

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