EFR - Review of Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart

Wed 6th – Sun 24th August 2014

reviews

Sarah GIlbert

at 12:59 on 7th Aug 2014

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Though one generally - and often accurately - has an idea of what to expect from a History, with the levels of diversity, not only of acting troupes and direction but also of historical interpretation, found at the Fringe, often it is best to enter the metaphorical box void somehow of expectation. With Theatre Alba’s offering of McLellan's 'Mary Stewart', however, this does not necessarily ring true.

This play provides an emotional storyline behind the political and religious struggles of 16th Century Scotland, through the documentation of the breakdown of Mary Queen of Scots. Theatre Alba's production depicts a Mary who is forced into the choices she made in her time in Scotland following the purported murder of her husband and rape by the Earl of Bothwell, continuing to "bite Catholic" in spite of others' attempts at delegitimizing her adherence to her faith.

With the distance from Edinburgh city and the picturesque yet intimate outdoor garden staging, this production seemed to promise an opportunity to experience a crucial fragment of Scottish history in both a relevant and stunning manner. However this, initially the productions greatest appeal, rapidly revealed itself to be its biggest drawback. The openness of the surroundings ultimately detracted from the historical conviction and lent nothing to the sense of secrecy and plotting at the heart of the storyline. The production would have greatly benefitted from a darkened, more compact stage.

Although stepping into the main role only four days earlier, the most striking acting came from Andrea McKenzie, who played Mary herself, despite her clinging to a table bearing what looked suspiciously like a copy of the script. Her performance at the closing of both acts, charged by compelling background music and downstage lighting, carried the production through its lack of authenticity.

The other actors were likewise very good, though frequent issues with blocking and projecting away from the audience did not aid in deciphering the thick Scottish accents. The company however made a point of offering a more accessible version of the original script whilst retaining the authentic Scottish tongue, helping to maintain the sense of local historicity which was, ultimately, the play's primary offering.

Having said that, the performance came into its own in the second half, with Mary pushed into her ultimate fate by a vicious politics of selfishness masked as faith. Here the intense downstage lighting combined with a somehow subtly heavy musical arrangement to conclude the production with the emotional power that the script demands. For this the trip was made worthwhile, and to be recommended to those after a trip away from generic Fringe hub.

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