Bloody Mary: In Service to the True God, VAULT Festival

What with the worst moments in human history threatening to repeat themselves in the western world, it’s to be expected that theatre will have a lot to say about it. Bernie C Byrnes seeks to comment directly on this cycle by incorporating modern Tory speeches into the volatile, tyrannical reign of Queen Mary I, with a focus on her determination to protect her country and its faith. She picks up on the strong parallels with the contemporary religious/fascist right.

As a concept, it’s a sound one – both time periods are troubled by populism, poverty and fundamentalism. The production is, unfortunately, hugely disappointing. Awkward performances and flat, pontificating writing with little narrative substance or subtlety make for a plodding hour more closely resembling the horrendous torture described in the script.

Byrnes’ script alternates between the elderly queen and her much younger husband, and a trio of imprisoned protestant “heretics”. There is no plot, just speechifying about various faith-based issues and sticking to one’ convictions. It’s a sensible enough theme, but there’s a total lack of dramatic tension or conflict. Combined with minimal tonal variation in any of the actors’ delivery, it’s difficult to maintain any sort of extended focus.

There are some good textual moments that vividly depict various methods of execution. As short stand-alone extracts, these are strong but within the whole, they do little to propel the piece forward. There are some cringe-worthy physicalisations that add visual variation, but they are such literal interpretations of what is being described that I would expect more from GCSE Drama students.

Bloody Mary: In Service to the True God feels much more like am dram than professional in all aspects of the production. It’s a huge shame – there’s a lot of thematic potential, but the manifestation of the core ideas is painfully inexperienced.

Bloody Mary: In Service to the True God runs through 12 February.

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