All the good scriptwriting theory says  that conflict is always at the heart of every good drama. Let it be said that there was plenty of conflict and heat in this production. This play explores one of history’s great rivalries. A battle of wits, blood and broken hearts, reinvented for the stage – the iconic tale of Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth 1 of England.

Following an uprising, Mary has fled Scotland, gone to England and has been imprisoned by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. The Queen her Imprisoned because Mary is younger, more beloved, and has her own claim to the throne.

The play starts after Mary has been languishing in prison for some 19 years and has now been found guilty of treason. She is told that the Queen can now sign a warrant for her execution.  

Kate Mulvany’s adaptation felt like one could really look inside the head of both Mary and the Queen. The Queen, full of insecurities, is fed even greater doubt by her courtiers who tell her that Mary cannot be trusted even from her prison cell.

The Queen is not keen to sign the warrant, the Queen and Mary are cousins and she feels a sense of familial duty to her. She also feels uneasy about giving the death penalty to a former monarch.  

The Queen for much of the play has her courtiers around and struggles to find time alone. They are sycophantic and she barely tolerates them. She deals with the French representative with disdain.

There is a  very dramatic scene where the two women meet, something that never happened in real life. The sequence is a bit dream/nightmare, non naturalistic scene. At first they are almost pleasant to each other but before long they are locking horns, with Mary ‘tearing strips’ off the Queen’s character. A poor choice of behaviour considering she was asking the Queen to set her free!

Another great scene is when Mary gives herself confession as she prepares for her execution. Caroline Brazier is searing in this scene.

It has to be said that Mulvany’s play is very different from the original Schiller play.  The playwright brings a strongly feminist perspective to this narrative.

Lee Lewis’s production is stark and sombre, as indeed the subject demands. (This is not to say that there isn’t humour in the production. There are some light moments, some needed comic relief to the dark tone). Lewis’s  production conveyed the grandeur and danger of Elizabethan England.

Elizabeth Gadsby’s set was a tiered platform grey toned set which has a revolve to it which is used late in the play. There were a few ‘windows’ against the side walls from which the light appears reflected, on one ‘level’ indicating Mary’s prison environment. Paul Jackson’s lighting design was excellent. Max Lyandvert’s soundscape through the play added a lot to the drama of the piece.

The two lead performances were memorable. with the two women holding similar temperaments.  They were both fierce, feisty, outspoken and sometimes even coarse. Helen Thomson as Queen Elizabeth 1 was astonishing as she always is. Caroline Brazier  was excellent as Mary Stuart.

Fayssal Bazzi played the ill fated Mortimer. Simon Burke was Paulet. Peter Carroll was tremendous as Lord Shrewsbury, always a calming voice, appealing to the more moderate side of the Queen.Tony Cogin played the officious Lord Burleigh. Andrew McFarlane played the uncompromising Earl of Leicester..

Rahel Romahn played the Queen’s mild mannered undersecretary Davison. His playing of the dramatic scene when he is given the signed warrant by the Queen, and doesn’t want to deal with it, is very striking.

Rounding out the cast were Matthew Whittet who played Aubespine and Darcey Wilson who played an anonymous young girl.

You don’t have to be a lover of history to be enthralled bu this production. Recommended, the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of MARY STUART is playing the Roslyn Packer Theatre until 2nd March, 2019.