Tuesday, February 19, 2019


Helen Thomson and Caroline Brazier in Mary Stuart.

Mary Stuart.

A new adaptation by Kate Mulvaney after Friedrich Schiller. Directed by Lee Lewis Set design by Elizabeth Gadsby. Costume design by Mel Page. Lighting design by Paul Jackson. Composer and sound designer. Max Lyandvert. Choreographer. John O’Connell. Fight director. Nigel Poulton. Sydney Theatre Company.The Roslyn Packer Theatre. February 9 - March 2 2019. Bookings www.sydneytheatre.com.au or 02 9250 1777

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Powerful, thought-provoking and harrowing! Kate Mulvaney’s adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart not only depicts the historic and dramatic relationship between Mary Stuart, Queen of the Scots, and the English Queen Elizabeth l but is also historically significant as an adaptation of the early nineteenth century German play by an award winning Australian female playwright.
Helen Thomson and Caroline Brazier
in Mary Stuart.Photo: Brett Boardman

Mulvaney brings a contemporary perspective to a play more traditionally concerned with the patriarchal politics of a society.  With Lee Lewis as director, Mulvaney places Mary (Caroline Brazier) and Elizabeth (Helen Thomson) as the progenitors of their own destiny, rather than merely the political pawns of a male dominated autocracy. It is Elizabeth who orders the imprisonment of Mary for nineteen years, finally being incarcerated in Fotheringay Prison on the charge of treason. It is Mary who foolishly aligned herself with rebellious forces that threatened to usurp the English throne.  It is Elizabeth who must sign the death warrant. It is the two womenwho must navigate the perilous pathway, strewn with the lustful ambitions of powerful men. Lord Burleigh (Tony Cogin) lusts after Mary’s execution. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Andrew McFarlane) lusts after Elizabeth and the power that such a union would entail. Lord Shrewsbury (Peter Carroll) offers the venerable voice of reason but is powerless before the hierarchical will of Burleigh. Mary’s gaoler, Paulet (Simon Burke) is equally powerless. His nephew, Mortimer (Fayssal Bazzi  )succumbs to the fate of Papist loyalty.
Andrew McFarlane. Helen Thomson
Tony Cogin, Peter Carroll.
Photo: Brett Boardman

What lends immense power to the Sydney Theatre Company production is Mulvaney’s striking ability to allow the political circumstance to expose the human frailties of indecision, procrastination, choice and responsibility to determine action and its consequence, in this case to regrettable effect. Lewis’s grippingly directed production on Elizabeth Gadsby’s impressively lit enormously grey, steel set, furnished only with a central tiered rostrum  and with shafts of   Paul Jackson’s lighting streaming through the barred cell windows compels enquiry and investigation of Mulvaney’s superbly crafted drama. What might have happened if two women, endowed with the mantle of divine right of rule, had been empowered to exercise free will, unimpeded by the destructive will of powerful men, endowed by historical precedent with the right to determine the passage of history and the edicts of law? Schiller’s early nineteenth century drama emphasises this natural order of authority of the Elizabethan age. Mulvaney’s adaptation preserves it, true to Schiller’s original drama, but exposes its consequential injustice through the skilful inclusion of Schiller’s translated German text, Elizabeth and Mary’s own scribed words and Mulvaney’s placement of  two remarkable women front and centre in the drama as queens, cousins, sisters in womanhood.. It is Mulvaney who injects grim irony into her characters. With the insight of our time we laugh at the absurdity of motive and false reason . We weep at the brutal fate of Mary at the hands of  cruel and foolish men. Mulvaney’s imagined meeting between the conflicted Elizabeth and the falsely judged Mary reveals conflicting interior motives fatalistically played out in equal measures of gender and status.
Darcey Wilson as the Serving Girl
Rahel Romahn as Davison
Photo: Brett Boardman
Helen Thomson’s Elizabeth is her father’s daughter, Gloriana, wilful, impetuous and capable of scathing wit and political cunning. Caroline Brazier’s Mary, in contrast is compelled to play the imprisoned victim, pleading for a cousin’s compassion and reason. In a meeting that never happened, we discover the inevitability of predestined expectation. Mary’s fate is ultimately determined, not by a woman’s act but by the will and law of men. They suffer the paradoxical  consequence of possessing the divine right of kings in a world ruled by men.
Caroline Brazier, Darcey Wilson,
Fayssal Bazzi, Simon Burke
Photo: Brett Boardman

 Thompson and Brazier are magnificent. Their performances, fired by Mulvaney’s text and director Lewis’s intuitive understanding set the stage alight with searing intelligence and forceful acting. They are finely supported by other members of the cast. The lights fade on Elizabeth’s serving girl  (Darcey Wilson) as she scrubs the bloodied floor on bended knee. In a production of high drama it is a poignant moment of sheer pathos as the sombre and contemplative melody brings to a  close Sydney Theatre Company’s  outstanding production. 
Mary Stuart is not-to-be- missed theatre worth every bit of a trip to Sydney.