Mary by Rona Munro. Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, London NW3 to 26 November 2022. 4****. William Russell.

The sixth in the series of James plays Rona Munro has written about the Stuarts brings Douglas Henshall triumphantly back to the theatre after a decade on television much of it spent playing policeman Jimmy Perez in Shetland. It is a 90 minute long three hander directed by Roxana Silbert, the theatre’s artistic director, which deals with what happened after the murder of Darnley and Mary’s abduction by Bothwell. Munro has taken a fresh look at events – Mary’s story has been told time and again, sometimes with little regard to fact, and her abduction by Bothwell can be seen as a woman in the throes of passion making a terrible error – here she is a woman abducted and raped, Munro having, she says in the programme, looked back at such contemporary evidence as exists. It is a static evening but Henshall delivers a fine performance as James Melville, the courtier who brought the young queen back from France and is a loyal supporter. We see him meeting a young courtier, Thompson (Brian Vernel), who has just been beaten up by Bothwell, and the older man offers him protection, they talk about what is happening – they are in the wings of events as it were – and Agnes (Rona Morison) the young Calvinist waiting woman helps clean up Thompson and argues about the behaviour of the Catholic queen. We return later, the Regent Moray is in charge and Melville’s signature is wanted – Scotland’s future is at stake – with Thompson now the man delegated by the Regent to get it. Melville is anguished, worried, horrified that he stood by as Mary was abducted, raped and raped again. There was nothing romantic about what happened. It is a very contemporary look at events and the story ends – he signs, of course – with the sudden, shocking arrival of a host of women making their anger clear. The performances are good, the audience’s attention is held – Scottish history is not necessarily something modern audiences know much about and Mary’s image, like that of Elizabeth, has been shaped by all those great ladies who have played her on stage and screen usually in very romantic versions of the truth. The play is a fine addition to Munro’s great work – it is the sixth play, the fifth has yet to be staged – and provides an impressive role for Henshall the theatre actor to reaffirm his talents as opposed to Henshall the TV actor.

James Melville: Douglas Henshall.

Agnes: Rona Morrison.

Thompson: Brian Vernel.

Director: Rosana Silbert. Designer: Ashley Martin-Davis.

Lighting: Matt Haskins.

Composer and Sound: Nick Powell. Movement: Ayse Tashkiran.

Assistant Director: Marlie Haco.

Production photography: Manuel Harlin.

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