REVIEW: Mary Stuart (Auckland Theatre Company)

Robyn Malcom as Mary Stuart
Robyn Malcom as Mary Stuart

Two Queens, two kingdoms [by Sharu Delilkan]

Robyn Malcom as Mary Stuart
Robyn Malcom as Mary Stuart

With the recent revelry to mark the British Royals tying their nuptials I wasn’t surprised that The Maidment Theatre’s foyer was packed to the gunnels when we arrived.

But I soon realised it was because there were two sets of audiences in the house – those gearing up for the NZ International Comedy Festival show at The Musgrove Theatre and the rest who were anticipating the historic journey with Mary Stuart.

As we filed into the theatre we heard people whispering with excitement about the Outrageous Fortune’s stars – Elizabeth Hawthorne & Robyn Malcolm — about to grace the stage.

All the elements – the costume, direction, lighting, music and set – combine seamlessly to set the mood, the era and complement the actors on stage.

The story is replete with contrasts, freedom vs confinement, wanton living against regal duty, displacement and homeland, privilege and struggle, beauty and ugliness, …the list goes on.

John Parker’s set is both simple and impressive and has the versatility to represent the diverse situations of the two queens with ease.  The choreography of the wrought iron partitions’ movement is royally executed while their see-through quality enables characters to lurk in the background as persuasive, jealous, ever on the minds and influencing the scheming decisions of the two queens.

The use of the colour red in the costumes, which started with mere highlights including the heels on actors’ shoes and their undergarments, was cleverly increased throughout the show in keeping with the intensity of the storyline – brilliantly executed by the talented Elizabeth Whiting.

Being a bit of a period costume buff, I was absolutely enthralled by the intricate designs of the fabrics, particularly with the costumes of Queen Elizabeth (Hawthorne) and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (Malcolm).

A major chunk of the opening scene introduces Stuart’s situation and fills in the back story of how she comes to be in her current predicament, much of which is reiterated in later dialogue.  If any amendments to the script were possible I’d probably suggest condensing this first section of the play to create more momentum.

Peter Oswald’s new translation of the historic play, originally by Friedrich Schiller, is riddled with beautifully written dialogue retelling both the queens’ controversial lives – which interestingly enough still remain relevant today.

The play picks up pace in the second act and continues to hold our attention all the way to the bitter end, communicating both the grim comedy of the shameless politicking and faction-ridden intrigue at court.

 Both Hawthorne’s and Malcolm’s performances are faultless and their demeanours are as regal as their reputations, as lorded members of the New Zealand Theatre royalty.

Later in the play some biting humour and wit from both Queens shines through and lighten what is obviously leading up to an unhappy conclusion.

George Henare’s characterisation of Count Auberspine, one of the French courtiers, is definitely worth special mention as he’s totally in character, pinkies and all showing off his ever-glittering jewellery, prompting quite a few laughs.

Additional ‘ridiculosity’ is provided by Davison (Cameron Rhodes) whose character represents the appalling dilemmas an absolute monarch’s clerk faces.

I loved Phillip Dexter’s dramatic lighting choices that allow the partitions to take on different personas throughout the show.

And Eden Mulholland’s sound scapes provide the perfect compliment to the superb dialogue and interludes.

The show is another Auckland Theatre Company triumph with its slick production and polish but at some points I would have preferred a bit more movement among the supporting characters, who at times just seemed to deliver their lines in a rather static fashion. 

Mary Stuart is yet another lavish and well-crafted show, which will undoubtedly be a success.  As theatre, she is clever, dramatic, educational, emotional and funny – long may she reign…

Auckland Theatre Company presents Mary Stuart playing at the Maidment Theatre, until 28 MayMore information at Auckland Theatre Company website.

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