THEATRE REVIEW: Mary Stuart starring Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams


WHERE: Almeida

WHEN: 9/12, runs to 21/1/17

‘A majority does not mean a thing is always in the right’. There aren’t many laughs in this but it’s a moment of hilarity for this north London audience.

  • Read on for reasons including why this insight from Elizabeth I advisor Lord Talbot sparked laughter

We’re assuming that this Islington crowd took it as a commentary on June’s close Brexit result as the theme of England’s relationship with Scotland is at the heart of this Robert Icke adaptation of Friedrich Schiller.

At the beginning of this three-hour and 15 minutes long piece (with 20-minute interval) a coin is spun and Stevenson calls ‘heads’, ‘heads’ it is and Stevenson (in modern-day dress identical to Williams’) loses her high heels and spends the rest of the play as a barefoot Mary Stuart.

A criticism of this adaptation would be that it felt more like journalism than drama, purely chronicling the history rather than maximising its effect. Elizabeth (Williams, terrific in an attempt to ape masculinity yet neuter her sexuality) agonising over the fate of the Scottish queen who so threatened her (Stevenson, beguiling while appearing oblivious to the magnetism she draws from men).

The production is a little like a Now That’s What I Call Icke compilation album of his greatest hits: the screens from 1984 and Oresteia, the inescapable ticking down of time, again from Oresteia, and the revolving stage of Uncle Vanya.

We’ve observed before how little the Almeida spends on its sets (why would it when it boasts such marvellous exposed brickwork?) and perversely one of the few additions this time is extra brickwork at each side of the stage at the back to allow for more dramatic entrances.

We’ve asked the question of: ‘How long is too long in the theatre?’ rather a lot this year (mostly during the Old Vic’s daring King Lear) and we’d say the first half here at 10 minutes shy of two hours could do with some (Christmas?) trimmings.

Mary Stuart boasts two fine central performances (and even a welcome appearance from Cucumber‘s Vincent Franklin as devious advisor Burleigh and Rudi Dharmalingam who’s definitely one to look out for in the future as the spy Mortimer) but we’d like to have seen a better edited script that made more of its modern-day parallels with devolution and Brexit.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy Almeida. Tickets
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