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Saturday, 25 April 2009 10:46

Review: Mary Stuart

Written by
Mary Stuart
Harriet Walter (L) and Janet McTeer in Mary Stuart
Photo: Joan Marcus

If you are the type of theatre-lover who yearns for a chance to worship at the altar of diva-dom, run don't walk to the Broadhurst Theatre to see Janet McTeer as Mary, Queen of Scots and Harriet Walter as Queen Elizabeth I in a fresh, riveting  and timely retelling of the story of the familial rivalry between two cousins,  Mary Stuart.    

You know you are at a true hit on Broadway by the level of glitterati in the audience.  In attendance were none other than opera diva Jessye Norman, actress Kate Burton, Oscar winner Kate Winslet and adult film entrepreneur Michael Lucas.   

Let me set the stage.  The time is 1587 and the setting is Fotheringhay Castle, where Mary has been kept captive for some nineteen years after fleeing Scotland, and  the royal court of Elizabeth I.  Mary, who has been stripped of nearly all her personal effects in a startling beginning to the evening, is attended by the devout Hanna Kennedy, her nurse since childhood.  Elizabeth is attended to by a large group of courtier all dressed in nearly identical European-cut suits in monochromatic shades of gray.  Mary has been held captive under the premise that she has incited the rebel cause and allegedly plotted to have Elizabeth assassinated. 

Janet McTeer in Mary Stuart
Janet McTeer in Mary Stuart
Photo: Joan Marcus

Making up the court of Queen Elizabeth are Brian Murray as the voice of reason and the great conciliator, the Earl of Shrewsbury.  Hunky Chandler Williams is the love-struck Mortimor who is devoted to freeing and loving Mary and ultimately falls on his own sword.  John Benjamin Hickey is the conniving two-faced Earl of Leicester and Robert Stanton is the gullible fall-guy for Elizabeth, Sir William Davison.  Nicholas Woodeson is the yappy and officious Lord Burleigh.  These men, dressed in modern clothes while the women were left in period frocks, made me think of congress.  These men were outstanding in their roles.

The understated set by Anthony Ward is merely a brick wall.  The lighting designer, Hugh Vanstone uses the brick wall as a canvas and brings the set to life painting with angular lighting which cast tall shadows up the brick wall. 

In the most talked about scene in the play, a scene that starts with the exuberant Mary being let free in the yard, we experience an on-stage rainstorm in which Mary dances about with pure abandon with her nurse.  Unfortunately, this momentary freedom has been pre-arranged by Elizabeth so that she can have her chance meeting with Mary.  Apparently this scene is more fiction than fact as the two never met.  This scene is the pièce de résistance of the evening as the two queens get to dig their teeth into this rich new adaptation of this 200+ year old play by Peter Oswald.  Divas McTeer and Walter bring emotional depth to their characters that mesmerizes the audience;  Walter as the stoic, pent-up Elizabeth and McTeer as the free-at-heart Mary whose emotions during the course of the play range from her giddy romp in the rain to her vacillation between groveling to and venomously spitting at Elizabeth.  Mark my words, you will see both of these two ladies in the same category when the Tony nominations are announced on May 5th. 

Harriet Walter in Mary Stuart
Janet McTeer in Mary Stuart
Photo: Joan Marcus

Finally, a word about the brilliant direction of this play by Phyllida Lloyd, whose most recent Broadway claim-to-fame was none other than Mama Mia!  Don't let that fool you, Ms. Lloyd is an accomplished English director of theatre, opera and television.  At moments her direction was more choreography  than direction as large numbers of people moved in unison.  Actors don't arrive at performances like those given by McTeer and Walter without an exceptional hand like Lloyd's at the helm.  There is no doubt that Ms. Lloyd is the English equivalent of Broadway's own Jack O'Brien who fluidly moves back and forth between plays and musicals with equal aplomb. 

Don't miss this opportunity to see these two ladies in this refreshing redoing of Mary Stuart.  These will be performances that are talked about years from now.  This is a limited run currently only set to run through August 16th.  Get tickets


See detailed show credits from

In other reviews...

In Variety, David Rooney says "Just as Christopher Hampton did with "The Seagull" earlier this season, Peter Oswald's new version vigorously shakes the dust off the Schiller text. This is no stodgy history lesson but a juicy regal smackdown rendered in direct, muscular language that acquires its modernity without investing unduly in anachronisms. Emotional stakes, intrigue and tension are elevated throughout."  Read the entire review

Ben Brantley for the NY Times says "Though Mary Stuart would seem to be made for a big pomp-and-circumstance production, the look here is hypnotically stark: black brick walls, austere minimalist furniture and outsize shadows that lend an even greater urgency to a show that relentlessly keeps you on the edge on your seat. (Hugh Vanstone is the lighting designer.) Ms. Lloyd knows that a great intellectual potboiler like “Mary Stuart” demands Big Theatrical Moments, and she doesn’t cheat you of a single one. Read the entire review

For the Bergen Record, Robert Feldburg says "The revival of Friedrich Schiller's 1800 play Mary Stuart, which opened Sunday at the Broadhurst Theatre, is vibrant, audacious and, as the plots are hatched that will send Mary to the gallows, improbably funny.  Read the entire review

The Associated Press's Michael Kuchwara writes "The suspense is palpable despite the fact we know how the play will end. Credit director Phyllida Lloyd and adapter Peter Oswald, who have created a taut tale of political intrigue, a bruising contest in which the prize is England itself."  Read the entire review

Last modified on Saturday, 25 April 2009 11:00