Mary Stuart, Duke of York’s Theatre

by guest critic Kudzanayi Chiwawa

Heads or tails – with the flip of a coin, on this evening, Juliet Stevenson is Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart is portrayed by Lia Williams.

The play opens with urgency, the stakes are high and the rhythm throughout doesn’t let up. It’s exhilarating. Williams commands the stage like a beautiful beast, burdened by captivity. We know how history reads for these two women, but the battle waged on stage, makes you wonder how will it end.

Stevenson and Williams gift astounding performances throughout, and are supported by an incredible cast – preying advisors, with their own ambitions, inhabit a world in which no one can be trusted but decisions have to be made. Neither queen makes it look easy.

Rudi Dharmalingam as Mortimer really stands out. An inspired fanatic, he leaves you with a particular kind of dread, a reminder that sometimes those you least expect can be the worst kind of monsters.

The play’s text is dense, but the actors weave it well and again, the pace gets us through.  At times the physical intimacy seems awkward for the actors, as if they’re trying too hard to remember the choreography, But it doesn’t necessarily take away from the overall experience.

The ending is gorgeous – colour suddenly bursts onto what has otherwise been a minimalist, stone set. Robert Icke has created an extraordinary retelling of a pivotal moment in British history, making it current and engaging, to an audience hundreds of years later.

Mary Stuart runs through 31 March.

Press tickets courtesy of London Box Office.

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