by Robert McLellan.
Brunton Theatre Ladywell Way EH21 6AA 30 August 2014.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.
TICKETS: 0131 665 2240.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 15 August at Duddingston Kirk Manse Gardens Edinburgh.
Raw energy revealed across the decades.
While the theatre world knows Mary Stewart (playwright Robert McLellan’s chosen spelling) through the titanic discussion of the conflict between political necessity and human motivations in Friedrich von Schiller’s Mary Stuart, this 1951 drama makes clear that had it not been for England’s Queen Elizabeth I, Mary’s life would have been many years shorter.
There were plenty of leading Scottish families who would have made away with her – and found good excuse in her passionate nature and affairs. The apparent calm of Duddingston’s tree-lined lawn provides an excellent setting for this. Mary emerges from a kind of bower, a semi-secret place, to engage in political argument, defending herself against fractious lords.
Some way in, Andrea McKenzie dons a ruff, as if for the start of political business. From then she’s largely on her own, her only ally the tension between her opponents, holding them for her. It’s a subtle, assured performance which, amazingly was taken over late in the day. And it’s supported by the contemptuous, conspiratorial lords.
Theatre Alba Director Charles Nowosielski has retained the currents of argument and action, the sense of secret dangers and plotting, while slimming the word-count to match modern audience s’ greater responsiveness to action. The original script was performed at the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow during 1951, a theatre then associated principally with playwright James Bridie. The result is a thrilling revival of a playwright largely seen today only on Alba’s lawns, or at London’s Finborough Theatre.
Nowosielski has expanded this Duddingston season into a mini-revival of mid-20th century Scottish Theatre, neglected largely even by Scotland’s National Theatre. He has surrounded Mary by a children’s interactive play and by a double-bill of plays by Joan Ure (1918-1978). Something in it for Cordelia and Something in it for Ophelia are set in that ready-made space for cultural discussion, the wait at Waverley for late trains after a performance at the Assembly Hall.
Both use Shakespearean characters intriguingly enough; but McLelland is rightfully the centrepiece, and it’s a great shame his play, now it has been produced, cannot be seen more widely around the country.
Guardian of the Book/Earl of Morton/Cunningham: Nick Cheales.
Lord Lindsay/Stewart: Charles Donnelly.
Mary Stewart: Andrea McKenzie.
Lady Huntly/Stewart: Amy Conway.
Lord Darnley: Sean Langtree.
Earl of Bothwell: Alan Ireby.
Earl of Moray/Mr Brand: Frank Skelly.
Earl of Huntly/Standen: Robert Cassidy.
Marie/Jeannie: Helen Cuinn.
William Maitland: Robin Thomson.
Director: Charles Nowosielski.
Music: Richard Cherns.