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Review: Mary Stuart (Duke of Yorks Theatre)

Wednesday, 31st Jan 2018  

Review: Mary Stuart (Duke of Yorks Theatre)

Directed by Robert Icke (1984; The Orestia) this new version of Schiller’s classic political thriller about Elizabeth the First and Mary Queen of Scots transfers from the Almeida Theatre and is utterly gripping from start to finish.

From the coin toss at the beginning of the play between our two leading ladies, Juliet Stevenson & Lia Williams, to determine will play Mary and which will play Elizabeth, the audience leans forward and doesn’t sit back for three hours. That may sound like a long time but it went by in a flash for me. Icke’s brilliant new adaption makes the play feel modern and vital. The politics are anything but boring here as the plot twists and turns with betrayal and murder never far away.

It is beautifully acted by the company of actors in a production that allows the play itself to breath. An elegant set design by Hildegard Bechtler that effortlessly transforms into multiple locations due to a brilliant lighting design by Jackie Shemesh. The eerie and intense continuous sound design by Paul Ardittie is complemented beautifully by Laura Marlings’s hauntingly uplifting composition.

On the night of this review, I saw Ms Stevenson playing Elizabeth and Ms Williams playing Mary. I really want to make a return visit to see it played the other way now. But without the aid of a loaded coin, there is a 50/50 chance that I could see the same set up as tonight (which would be no hardship!)

The measure of a successful production of a play like Mary Stuart is to be found when an audience member knows how the play is going to end and yet hopes that this time it will be different. Knowing the history well, I still found myself wanting it to change. Yet with this production, there was something different. You actually feel for the supposed victor when their victory is tainted by guilt and the loss of everything they hold dear. In seizing everything, they have won nothing. This is a play that will stay with you after you see it. 

Not to be missed.

Playing until March 31st

Article filed under: Theatre News | Show Reviews |