Monday, 15 October 2018

Oppressed heroine or the real tyrant?

MARY Queen of Scots, or Mary Stuart, has assumed mythical status in the centuries since she was executed by Elizabeth I

MARY Queen of Scots, or Mary Stuart, has assumed mythical status in the centuries since she was executed by Elizabeth I. She is portrayed by romantics as a put-upon, oppressed heroine, railing against tyranny.

Perhaps that has suited the Scottish independence movement and the old Catholic Church but the story is much more complicated than that and the Oxford Theatre Guild has done a fine job bringing out the pressures and nuances which led to Mary's death.

The guild’s annual one-week residency at the Oxford Playhouse is a triumph of storytelling and acting.

They bring Schiller’s surprisingly perceptive play from 215 years ago to brilliant, vivid life.

One small gripe: it includes a specially composed - or designed as they prefer to say - music score by John Ouin, which mostly illuminates but occasionally obscures the drama.

Overall, though, Mary Stuart is an engrossing two-and-a-half hours. The text has the potential to be dry but director and Henley resident Hedda Bird makes sure it keeps alive and jumping throughout.

Her two leads of Rachel Pearson and Cathy Oakes as Elizabeth and Mary are well cast; they drive on the narrative with its conflicts, doubts and desires.

Rachel Pearson shows a range and diversity in a very demanding part.

She commands the stage as Gloriana would have done her court, but she shows doubt when necessary, is uncertain of her legitimacy as ruler because she’s a woman, and yet she is imperious at the same time.

Cathy Oakes has an equal part as Elizabeth’s foil, the woman who was happy to use her sex for advantage, who had no doubts whatever about the legitimacy of her claim to the English and Scottish thrones â?? even though she was born and brought up a Frenchwoman.

There are other questions here which perhaps we have learned to ask from history: who was the real tyrant, who was the real bully, and who was the real manipulator?

Elizabeth was defending her realm against a European Catholic juggernaut, Mary was its agent.

But her lonely imprisonment in Fotheringay for 15 years has lent her a mythical aura.

It’s a confusing moral tale which Schiller makes all the stranger by putting Elizabeth on a pedestal at the end for denying her own sex and libido in order to be qualified as Queen â?? or more likely female king.

Thank you OTG, for a very good production which sits comfortably, as usual, among the professional work which takes up most of the 52 weeks at the Playhouse.

Review: Mike Rowbottom

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