Mary Stuart – review
Almeida Theatre

Words by: Abiola Lawal | Published: Friday, December 16, 2016 11:05 PM
Eileen Nicholas and Carmen Munroe, credit Manuel Harlan Eileen Nicholas and Carmen Munroe, credit Manuel Harlan

Historically insightful and exciting Mary Stuart is an enthralling play. Originally written in 1800 by German playwright Friedrich Schiller Mary Stuart tells the story of two sisters both born to be queen, but one must go before the other can survive, one must die before the other can reign.


Mary Stuart is a three course sit down feast of theatrical storytelling.”

Mary and Elizabeth’s strange battle was tense, fraught with unspoken words and regal. They were both raised to be queen and both had every right to be. It is the classic battle of the Virgin and the Whore, sibling rivalry, the favourite and the forgotten. Mary spends her time on stage in prison and Elizabeth spends the same amount of time in her own mental prison due to her insecurities and the paranoia of her role as queen and all of the problems this brings.


The company of Mary Stuart_credit Manuel Harlan The company of Mary Stuart, credit Manuel Harlan

The cultural diversity of the characters on stage was rewarding and believable, a variety of skin tones did not distract from this glimpse back into English history.”

Rupert Goold, artistic director, describes this production as a ‘ticking time-bomb’ and I have to say that I was full of excited anticipation before I even sat in my seat. At the Almeida Theatre there were notices on screens dotted around stating that ‘The spin of a coin will randomly determine which actor plays Mary and which Elizabeth.’ The toss-up was between the main actresses Lia Williams (The Missing and Doc Martin), and Juliet Stevenson (The Enfield Haunting and The Snow Queen). Such a bold and unexpected introduction to this performance increased its intrigue. Familiar with some of their work I knew that Williams and Stevenson would give strong performances no matter where the coin landed, and I can confirm that they did.


I enjoyed the play but it was rather long, over three hours which is understandable as it is covering quite a large part of English history. But I did feel that maybe some parts could have been shaved off or condensed, but maybe I’m too millennial and want things told in a sound bite rather than a full three course meal; which this play is. It is a three course sit down feast of theatrical storytelling.


Lia Williams as Elizabeth I and Juliet Stevenson as Mary Stuart, credit Manuel Harlan Lia Williams as Elizabeth I and Juliet Stevenson as Mary Stuart, credit Manuel Harlan

The cultural diversity of the characters on stage was rewarding and believable, a variety of skin tones did not distract from this glimpse back into English history, I think in fact it added to it richly as diversity is a major part of British heritage.


There were some points in the play that were very uncomfortable to watch, especially scenes with the powerfully crazed Mortimer played by Rudi Dharmalingam. And there were many moments that left the audience giggling even when we didn’t want to make a sound or miss the events unfolding onstage. The character of Davison played by David Jonsson unexpectedly was my favourite as he was so simple and assuming even though he held so much power in his close proximity to the Queen, he was the only man around her that didn’t abuse his position. Surrounded by male advisors and council who are constantly plotting for their own gain, Elizabeth is always on the verge of losing her control. It was an interesting dynamic onstage to see how men can manipulate the most powerful woman in the world.


Highly recommended.



Info: Mary Stuart is on at the Almeida Theatre until the 21 January 2017. Book tickets




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