The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama put on some really good productions, and their latest, a take on Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart (here adapted and directed by Ben Naylor), is no exception. Like the opera version which I saw a few weeks ago, and which was inspired by this play, it tells the story of the last few months in the life of Mary, Queen of Scots and her relationship with Queen Elizabeth I of England.
The play needs strong performances in the two key female roles, and it has them, with tremendous performances from Aamira Challenger (Mary) and Katharine Bubbear (Elizabeth). Mary is regal, defiant but also passionate and playful; she inspires deep loyalty in her servants and followers. Elizabeth is politically shrewd and cleverly manipulative, but feels deeply what it means to kill a reigning queen. A particularly memorable scene is that in which the two queens meet: this never actually happened in real life but that doesn’t stop it making good drama.
There are great performances too from the rest of the cast, especially the hapless statesman who knows he will be blamed no matter what he does about Mary’s death warrant, and the other courtiers and envoys in the palace. A truly high quality production of a fascinating play.