I knew the general outline of the story of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart. But this play brought the volatile historic situation to life. There was so much tension in this real political chess game, any move threatening both lives and countries. It was almost like a Renaissance version of the Cuban missile crisis, with each decision or lack thereof fraught with danger.
The show started with a bang as a coin flip literally determined which of the two lead actresses would play the imprisoned Mary Stuart. As the verdict was reached, the rest of the cast bowed to the night’s Elizabeth I. The floor began to rotate as loud ominous music ripped through the theatre, and immediately the actress who played Mary Stuart had her coat stripped from her as she was roughly shuffled off stage to begin her imprisonment.
The show did an amazing job of using mirroring and parallels to continue emphasizing the similarities between these two queens, and reinforcing the idea that at a flip of a coin their positions could be reversed. The costuming was largely modern day in terms of style until the final moments of Mary Stuart, when Elizabeth I was dressed in full period regalia, emphasizing the final contrast between these two women as they approached their respective fates. It was nearly Shakespearean in terms of the drama, soliloquies, and themes. You could fittingly insert, “Two households, both alike in dignity…”
It was especially interesting to watch this play as a Catholic. Much of the tension had religious undercurrents, and it lent an interesting perspective to the humanitarian aspect of freedom of religion. Basic aspects of religious life, such as Mary Stuart being able to take communion in her last moments, and being denied burial on consecrated ground, meant more to viewers who understand the weight of those rituals.
Overall this was a great piece of English theatre, filled with history, drama, and great acting.