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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Monday, September 26, 2011

Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Three stars

What sets Liz Lochhead's 1987 play apart is the way past and present rub up against each other, setting off sparks of recognition as text-book history clashes with modern-day topicality. You hear it in the language: "cauldron o' lye" one line, Princes Street the next. You see it in the dressing-up box costumes, the frocks as much 1950s prom as 16th-century regal. And you understand it in a story that makes the link between coin contemporary Scottish sectarianism and the power politics of the French Catholic Mary and the English Protestant Elizabeth, the virgin queen.

Director Tony Cownie's Lyceum/Dundee Rep co-production is duly anachronistic. Neil Murray's set is a decidedly un-period jumble: a phone box, a rusting car, a skip with a crucifix and a hospital screen to shield us from Mary's beheading. The scavenging eclecticism of the language is done justice by Ann Louise Ross as the Corbie, a crow-like narrator, and Liam Brennan as the hot-headed reformer John Knox.

But for all the cultural collisions of the story, there is nothing abrasive about Shauna Macdonald's Mary or Emily Winter's Elizabeth. They give merely pleasant performances when they should be larger than life. A flame-haired Macdonald, whose dialogue is hampered by an unconvincing French accent, seems less queen than little girl lost. Likewise, Winter is glamorous and self-regarding but not grand. Their modesty means there is too little at stake at the heart of the evening and too little urgency to drive it home.

And what the production doesn't muster – at least, not until the playground sequence at the end – is the sense of a company coming together to tell a story with a single voice. This is a show of moments – a nice performance here, a jarring explosion there – but not of a unified ensemble spirit.

© Mark Fisher 2011

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