There is a lot of coughing going on in the audience at this fine, fine production. Thatï¿½s because people are being forced to l-i-s-t-e-n. You have to listen because these are Brits telling the story and Brits never use one word when 2 or 12 would do just as well. (Olivierï¿½s acceptance speech at the Academy Awards comes to mind. It nearly flattened John Voight. See it below.) Add to that the compelling tale of sisterly passion and the fact that Americans never run out of reasons to listen to a British accent ï¿½ well, itï¿½s a long evening.
Lucky for us it is so very, very good. The story of Elizabeth the First and her sister Mary the Stuart is compelling by itself. There are a lot of people who know this story, and can quote you chapter and verse how it was that Mary came to be imprisoned by Elizabeth I for nearly 20 years, and why Mary was considered by many as the true Queen of England. It had something to do with Henryï¿½s first divorce, which made more than a few think Elizabeth I an illegitimate child. Then thereï¿½s the part about Mary being Henry VIIIï¿½s second cousin on her fatherï¿½s side. W-H-A-T-E-V-E-R. It doesnï¿½t really matter.
What does matter is that this cast seems to know what is going on. So clearly does this come across that you can easily forget that you donï¿½t. Well, you probably know the outcome, which is not so good for Mary, but you donï¿½t know the details. Youï¿½d need an abacus to follow that.
Anyway. Not only does this cast know things, they care very deeply and would have you believe that not only is Maryï¿½s life at stake, so is everyoneï¿½s. One slip-up and Elizabeth will have you sliced into tiny ribbons and fed to the dogs. It is that kind of a world. They tread lightly and deceive willingly. Their lives depend not only on the Queenï¿½s pleasure but on their own ability to change direction as well as form in the middle of a breath.
Janet McTeer as Mary Stuart is tall and grand and glorious. As a woman being beaten down she relies only on herself and her ability to maintain a spine of steel. As Elizabeth, Harriet Walter is less convincing both in manner and appearance. She is brittle and strident, which somehow doesnï¿½t make sense. But maybe Iï¿½m suffering from too much ï¿½Elizabeth was a redhead wasnï¿½t she?ï¿½ What does not suffer is the rivalry between these two. They are each certain of their claim on the throne. They each believe themselves Divinely guided. They each are the thorn in the life of the other, and will not relinquish that position even in death. And, ahem, isnï¿½t it fab to see two women fight over something other than a man?
Speaking of men, all the attending men, and they are all men with the exception of Maryï¿½s nurse (Maria Tucci), seem to have their fingers linked into the light socket of the universe. Dressed in 20th century suits, while the women are all in period costumes ï¿½ nice touch - they live and breathe this air of history and manipulation. They are as addicts in an opium fog. Nicholas Woodeson as Lord Burleigh and John Benjamin Hickey as the Earl of Leicester balance the scale at opposite ends of moral thinking and reveal the breadth of personalities that fed the monarchy that ruled a large part of the world.
So it is a grand evening. Precise, demanding, and bold theatre. Phyllida Lloyd has guided this production with grace and invention. They got the whole world to fit into a black box just for our pleasure. I call that Royal Treatment.
"terrifically exciting new production"
New York Times
"this slice of history is all about the leading ladies. .., there's a pair of powerhouses on the thrones of Scotland and England."
New York Daily News
"as gripping as it is elegant"
New York Post
"making for good theater, however fanciful history."
"delivers several dramatic roundhouses and scores a knockout."
"vibrant, audacious and, as the plots are hatched that will send Mary to the gallows, improbably funny."
"cracking-good" & "splendidly exciting"
Time Out NY
"Call them electrifying (Janet McTeer & Harriet Walter), lifting this version of "Mary Stuart" into the realm of high-powered, classic drama."
"This is a superbly focused production"