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A review by Vanessa Bunn for EXTRA! EXTRA!




The Faction Theatre Company presents


Mary Stuart


Photo by Richard Davenport


by Friedrich Schiller


Adapted by Daniel Miller and Mark Leipacher


Director – Mark Leipacher


Associate Director – Rachel Valentine Smith


Associate Composer – Tom Whitelaw


Lighting Designer – Martin Dewar


Stage Manager – Suzie Foster



New Diorama Theatre


Now Booking until February 25, 2012


The stark black space of the New Diorama Theatre is as blank a canvas as one could hope to find to house this charged, innovative revival of two hundred year old Schiller tragedy Mary Stuart. The inextricably linked fortunes of rival Queens, Mary Stuart (Derval Mellett) and Queen Elizabeth (Kate Saywer) are sincerely played out by the same ensemble of eleven actors who are currently tackling both Strindberg's Miss Julie and Shakespeare's Twelfth Night as part of the same run. To a lesser troupe of actors this feat may prove an insurmountable challenge, but for this fine ensemble, who relish every moment of the production and effect seamless scene and mood changes, it almost looks dizzyingly simple. Miller and Leipacher's adaptation fuses tradition with modernity in a brave, yet entirely fitting manner and the tentative rivalry between the two Queen's and their respective religions and followers is explored in depth.

Sun glasses, rave lighting and projected attention-grabbing headlines and documents infiltrate the action at intervals in a way that is both consuming and disconcerting. As the members of Elizabeth's court are introduced, they stand in front of their names projected in huge letters on a blank, black wall. Stylish modern suits are manipulated to hark back to Elizabethan times with subtle cape-like jackets hung over the shoulders of their wearers. Mary Stuart wears a minimal hoop skirt but no dress before her fate envelops her and she finally appears in a gold embossed gown. The power struggle is played out with nominal, modern props making the predicaments of both Queens easy to relate to - Elizabeth occupies a white leather boardroom chair for her most serious meetings of council, whilst Mary's scaffold is an extension ladder reaching high above the stage.

Gareth Fordred delivers a stand-out performance as Queen Elizabeth's duplicitous favourite, Leicester. Through keen and elaborate speech and tremendously expressive demeanour, he captivates his audience as he does his fellow characters; he is, as Elizabeth observes,  “brave enough to woo two Queens”. Paulet (Lachlan McCall) is endearing and honest in his role as protector of Mary Stuart. Kate Sawyer is wholly believable as Queen Elizabeth in turmoil, her vanity and pride fighting for precedence over her less-violent impulses. Mary is serene and regal in her deportment until her tumultuous meeting with her captor forces her patience and results in an overwrought scene in which the ensemble fills the stage with panic and hysteria. The relationship between the rivals is lent the complexity and intensity it deserves through sympathetic portrayals of their characters.

When sound is used, it is measured and purposeful. Before her fateful meeting with Mary Stuart, Elizabeth stands arrested by the sound of the hunt and expresses her desire to be a part of it. The howling ensemble creates a chaotic feel which takes the play to interval with an air of anticipation. On the fringes of the stage, during a work which utilises every corner and exit, the expectant audience is engulfed by the fast pace, very clever staging and earnest endeavours of this industrious ensemble.



Photo by Richard Davenport
Box Office: 0207 383 9034
The New Diorama Theatre, 15 - 16 Triton Street, Regents Place, London, NW1 3BF

Tickets: £15.50/£12.50 (concessions)

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