Mary Stuart

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Sewell Barn Theatre, Norwich


Sewell Barn Theatre, Norwich

The Sewell Barn Company deserves great praise for Clare Howard's production of Mary Stuart. Written two centuries ago by the German dramatist Friedrich Schiller, this tragedy explores the bitter conflict between Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth. To breathe life into such historic material is quite a feat.

Amy Michaels gives a compelling performance as the Scottish queen. Not very tall and slight of stature, she is touchingly vulnerable, but never afraid to assert her personality or her rights. By contrast Ginny Porteous' Elizabeth, though grander in appearance, is racked by self doubt. She is the one we pity at the end, as her victim finds peace.

The minor roles nearly all make major contributions. As Mary's Scottish maid, Vivienne Hillier finds the right accent, though Rudy Lapeer is less convincing as the French ambassador.

Jonathan Cooke makes Burleigh a no-nonsense political operator. He seems all the tougher because David Hare's Shrewsbury argues for more humane attitudes.

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The costumes bring out important points. The queens wear period dress, and making them appear at the end in similar clothes is a neat reminder that the two are really very alike. Modern styles for the other characters are a visual link with today, suggesting connections with modern politics. Once you start spotting them, they become rather obvious. It is, for instance, ironic that Mary's death warrant can be seen as a dodgy document.

One other point. The action takes place alternately in Mary's prison and Elizabeth's court. Conveying the impression that many of the characters were afraid of eaves-droppers as they launch into their passionate speeches could add even more tension.

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