Theatre Review - Mary

Rona Munro’s Mary is a feminist re-examination of a crucial period in Catholic Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots’, life and a powerful reminder of how men have guided, written and rewritten history. It’s the sixth instalment in Munro’s cycle of plays focusing on the medieval kings and queens of Scotland.


Set in 1567, the play follows a pivotal year in Mary’s life that will determine her future and that of Scotland. The diplomat James Melville (Douglas Henshall), is one of Mary’s most trustworthy servants but he can’t guard her against the latest rumours and a swell of Protestant opinion that questions her morality and ability to reign.


Mary had borne a child with her second husband, Lord Darnley. When his house is blown up, many believe Mary to be complicit in his murder together with James Hepburn, the Earl of Bothwell, who had played a key role.


Melville attempts to defend Mary’s honour against the accusations of two fictional characters, Thompson (Brian Vernel) an ambitious servant of court and Agnes (Rona Morison) an outspoken maid in the royal household. Like many Scottish subjects, they believe Mary wanted Darnley dead so she could marry Bothwell.


Munro’s 90-minute play is roughly divided into two acts. In the second, we learn Bothwell had ambushed Mary and taken her back to his castle, where he raped her and forced her to marry him.


Thompson now has the upper hand as he attempts to cajole Melville into signing a document that will effectively force her abdication, while crowning her baby son, the future James VI of Scotland, in her stead.


Mary appears only fleetingly, Bothwell not at all, for Munro’s play is about Melville’s crisis of faith and how he effectively betrays his queen.


It’s elegantly staged by Roxana Silbert, with assured performances, and the pace and tension of a courtroom drama.


To November 26.

Originally published by Camden New Journal