Image by Perth Festival
By Caitlyn Stone
Mary Stuart adapted and reimagined after Friedrich Schiller, by distinguished Western Australian writer and actress Kate Mulvany, and directed by Mel Cantwell; is as confronting as it is beautiful. An exceptional degree of professionalism, conviction, wit, and passion combine in this grand and heart-breaking production.
The play follows Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I, as they both struggle to determine the course of their own lives in mid-Reformation England. Elizabeth, fearful of the ever-growing religious tensions amongst the English people, and determined to defend her legitimacy on the throne, has imprisoned her Catholic cousin, Mary Stuart, for nineteen years. The compassion and honour of each woman is set against the fragility of their female power, in a reality where the men have left no space for the both of them. “Women, whose only crime was womanhood” are centre-stage throughout, (in fact, the play fails the reverse-Bechdel test- how refreshing!) and is crafted with remarkable insight to capture the dynamic lives and characters of these two extraordinary women.
Caroline Brazier, as Mary, brought out all the elegance, honesty, and humour of the role, while embracing the darker and more desperate aspects; no easy task, but done with commendable grace and passion. Brazier succeeded in convincingly portraying the dichotomous Queen- moving from composure and piety to wit and anger with ease. Brazier’s ‘confession’ monologue, towards the climax of the play, was a stand-out; finally, she was truly alone, and could lay her heart bare, to the audience and to God, in all its humanness and honesty.
In juxtaposition to the imprisoned and involuntary-ascetic, Mary, Kate Walsh’s Elizabeth was extravagant and impetuous, dominating the space. Walsh brilliantly executed the instability of the English Queen’s state of mind, at times both confusingly moralistic and childish. We watched her gradual unravelling, her fear, her strength, her selfishness, her compassion, and couldn’t help but to feel deeply for her, to be angered by the impossibility of her position, and to consider the many powerful and wronged women for whom she stood.
The play moved seamlessly between scenes and acts, beginning with sharp exposition, both humorous and poignant, punctuated by a bold and heady masquerade ball scene, and finishing with the brilliantly chaotic culmination of the tension which had steadily been building. The supporting cast were dynamic and solid and gave room for the two leads to have full control of the minimalist stage. In the final scene, the fourteen-year-old Angelina Curtis brought the show to a close with her simple yet touching rendition of ‘Greensleeves’.
The premiere of Mary Stuart was received with a sustained standing ovation. The creation and presentation of such an exceptional piece of theatre is a credit to Perth Festival, and to Performing Lines WA, especially during a time when we must rely almost solely on local artists. To know we have such unbridled talent in Western Australia, on the stage and behind it, inspires me with great confidence for the future of Perth theatre.