Wednesday, October 04, 2006

"Mary Stuart" - October 2006

When I first heard of the creation of National Theatre of Scotland last year I had fears of it being a stuffy organisation of luvvies putting on all too serious traditional theatre that no-one would choose to go and see. Fortunately our experience of "Roam" quickly opened our eyes to the full range of shows the NTS had planned for their first season - and stuffy or traditional didn't form any part of it. Reviews I'd seen of some of their other shows only confirmed this. But for the first 10 minutes of "Mary Stuart" I was concerned that all my initial fears weren't entirely without grounds.

The show opens with some fairly slow and heavy sets of one to one dialogues delivered in an earnest fashion, and I quickly found myself focusing on the marvellous set. Fortunately once we get into three way dialogues things quickly improve and as soon as Siobhan Redmond appears on stage as Elizabeth things are raised to a different level entirely. I've always liked her television work but she really has stage presence here, so much so that it's difficult to reconcile the way some of the other characters compare Elizabeth unfavourably with the younger Mary. It's a strong supporting cast with excellent performances from several - especially Phil McKee as Leicester and Robin Laing as Mortimer, but Redmond remains a clear head and shoulders above anyone else here - Helen Mirren or Judi Dench wouldn't get a look in. Catherine Cusak gives a good performance as Mary but she doesn't have the same material to work with as Redmond is given.

There are a couple of scenes which will evoke memories of "Yes Minister" style farce and wordplay but for me they don't sit quite right with the tone of the rest of the play. They are however very well done, and do provide some much needed lighter moments.

The only real quibble I have is with the way the death scene is portrayed - the dialogue just seemed forced and it would have had more of an impact for Mary just to have been lead into darkness.

Despite a running time of around 3 hours the show passes quickly and never drags - but you might want to think twice before going on a schoolnight. Contrary to my initial concerns at the start of the evening, I think this was an excellent addition to the NTS list of productions as it isn't something that would likely make an appearance otherwise and it had just enough nice touches, including the costumes of the male characters, to remove any hint of luvvies and that kind of theatre...

If tickets aren't already running low for the show's run at the Citizens followed by the Royal Lyceum, they will be when the reviews get out - Book NOW while you can.