After winning fame and friends with its productions on the Edinburgh Fringe (Black Watch) and at the International Festival (Realism), the ambitious National Theatre of Scotland has launched Mary Stuart, the first in a series of classics, in a co-production with two major Scottish theatres.
It's 20 years since Robert David MacDonald's translation of Schiller's drama was launched here at the Citizens. But a newly commissioned version from the Scottish playwright David Harrower is as compelling, both pithy and poetic, capturing the conflict between the two queens battling it out for political, moral and personal supremacy.
Siobhan Redmond gives a glowing performance as Elizabeth, body cramped in period dress. It's shocking when she collapses in tears of frustration in the presence of her conniving courtiers, faced with the loss of her beloved Lord Leicester and pesky royal relation. More human than haughty, she's evidence that Schiller's thriller could as easily have been Elizabeth Tudor.
That is not to diminish Catherine Cusack's performance as Mary, a bundle of intense girlish energy, still driven after 19 years in prison to topple the bastard English queen. Confined to a tower in Fotheringay Castle, Mary can only dream of her escape with weaselly Leicester, or of refuge from the lunatic Mortimer (Robin Laing), as desperate to have her as to free her. The politics of religion in the clash of Protestantism and Catholicism dominate.
Vicky Featherstone's production is nowhere near as thrilling as Phyllida Lloyd's at the Donmar Warehouse. Some moments, especially Mary's execution, must be rethought. But there are relevatory scenes. Just before the (fictional) meeting of the two heroines, autumn leaves fall as Mary gorges on fresh air and a glimpse of freedom. Minutes later (despite a poorly timed interval), after a blazing encounter between the queens - in which Mary signs her death warrant by revealing the bitter depth of her feelings, while Elizabeth quickly regains a steely composure - snowflakes gently fall as the outlook turns bleak.
To 21 October (0141-429 0022); Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh (0131-248 4848), 27 October to 18 NovemberReuse content