Preview: Mary Stuart, Apollo Theatre, London

There's something about Mary
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The Independent Culture

For the director of Mary Stuart, Phyllida Lloyd, Schiller's appeal is clear: "The play has everything you crave from a night at the theatre: it has politics, it has passion and it's not without a dose of irony and humour," she enthuses.

A fictitious meeting between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots forms the dramatic crux: "Elizabeth is persuaded on the grounds that it will be a sort of PR triumph for her to appear to be acting mercifully in meeting Mary. It turns out to be a PR catastrophe," explains Lloyd. Reprising their roles are Janet McTeer, as Mary, and Harriet Walter, as the Virgin Queen. Lloyd predicts enthusiastic audiences: "It's more accessible than Don Carlos... we in Britain have all got bits of this story downloaded somewhere in our systems."

From Covent Garden to Shaftesbury Avenue may not look far, but the journey to the heart of Theatreland is ripe with rewards and challenges. In comparison with the notoriously "tricky" three-sided Donmar stage, the proscenium arch staging at the Apollo is "simple, capitalising on the public scenes that we can allow to fly free in here," says Lloyd.

"The challenge is how to retain the intimacy, the claustrophobia, the voyeurism and not succumb to a lot of shouting and bombast."

Following rave reviews, it's not surprising that Lloyd is keen to retain the original production's intimacy. There are few concessions to West End glitz: "It's an almost completely bare stage, a very austere brick room. The evening is all about the actors," she says.

'Mary Stuart', Apollo Theatre, London W1 (0870 890 1101), to 14 January 2006

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