Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller, Freemasons’ Grand Hall, Tuesday 30th July, 2013

Originally published by, Wednesday 31st July, 2013. To read the original, please click here

Aenne Barr as Queen Elizabeth

TIMELESS PLAYS will always form allegories with whatever era successive productions take place.Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart, translated by Joseph Mellish in 1800, is no exception and his classic masterpiece of political dissent is as fresh and vibrant today as it must have been in the 19th century.

Initially imprisoned over the murder of her husband Darnley, Mary Stuart is imprisoned and subsequently suppressed by the state due to her claim to the throne of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. The central action of the play hinges on characters – males, mostly – who attempt to both save and destroy Mary Stuart. Hanging over the production during the opening acts is Queen Elizabeth and the frosty ruler sits in her throne as the audience takes their seats on benches either side of the hall that resemble juror’s bench in a courtroom.

Mary Stuart (Christiane O’Mahony) pleads for her life to be spared

Aenne Barr’s portrayal of the ruler doesn’t add a new dimension to Elizabeth’s character, though the contrast between Elizabeth’s ruthlessness and her attempt to alleviate her responsibility for Mary’s death is well achieved in a subtle and nuanced performance.

Similarly, Christiane O’Mahony’s portrayal of Mary Stuart is as tender as it is strong, showing Mary Stuart to be a character who fights her charges until the bitter end and yet a character who, throughout the play, is quietly accepting her fate.

Like the National Theatre’s recent production of Macbeth, starring Kenneth Branagh and performed in Manchester’s St. Peter’s Church, it is the choice of the found space that elevatesPageant Wagon’s production among many others. Performed in the Grand Hall of the Freemasons’ Lodge on Molesworth Street, there is a feeling as one enters the doors of the lodge that one is stepping into another world – a mysterious, foreign world. The Grand Hall itself boasts a level of opulence rarely available to the common eye. The chequered floor, the centuries – old portraits, the throne… all of these elements create an unlabored delusion for the audience. Impressive, still, is the pipe organ, played by Italian musician Pierpaolo Vitale, which provides a natural soundtrack for the production.

Mary Stuart receiving the Last Rites.

So why does Mary Stuart matter to audiences to audiences now? The answer seems to be in its unflinching portrayals of the political elite and the shadowy forces that attempt to disrupt the order and the rulings of the establishment. Coupled with this, many of the characters personify traits in those public figures who have stood with or fought against the elite: Elizabeth recalls the late Iron Lady and Mortimer – he who covertly attempts to save Mary Stuart from her fate – could remind one of any number of government whistle-blowers. This is what great plays do, after all: they express themes and sentiments that can never be banished from society.

Star rating: 4 / 5
Review by: Philip Cummins
Venue: The Freemasons’ Hall, Molesworth Street

Written by: Friedrick Schiller
Directed by: Liam Halligan
Cast: Christiane O’Mahony, Aenne Barr, Mathhew Ralli, Pádraig Murray, Neill Fleming, Geraldine McAlinden, Karl O’Neill, Matthew O’Brien, Jim Roche, Rob Harrington

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