Mary Stuart, New Diorama, London


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Faction Theatre Company won this year's Peter Brook/Equity Ensemble Award, a gong founded by the visionary Blanche Marvin, in recognition of the fact that ensembles -- the best training ground these post-rep days perhaps for young actors -- would benefit generally from having their profiles raised.

Faction are very worthy winners.  They kicked off their three-play season at the New Diorama with a sizzlingy fresh Twelfth Night.  The same actors and the same director --- Mark Leipacher -- now bring to bear a similar talent for creating a mood of astringent immediacy on to Schiller's great 1800 tragedy, Mary Stuart.   I have seen the piece twice before -- once in Michael Grandage's superlative production, with Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter, which found acclaim on Broadway as well as on its West End transfer.  But Faction's thrilling, rough theatre-ish version made me feel that I had never seen the play before. 

Schiller, for my money, has the most acute understanding of power-politics after Shakespeare.  This interpretation -- using a translation by the director and Daniel Millar that intelligently flirts with near-anachronism in its bringing of the play into alignment with our terror-ridden times -- goes straight to the nub, or rather to the nubs. of the matter.  The play features a prisoner, the title character, Mary Stuart who is here portrayed with a fierce spiritual intensity by Derval Mellett who boasts a wonderful mane of strawberry blond curls. But it's an increasingly moot point whether her cousin and jailer, Elizabeth I is, in fact, the more fundamentally imprisoned of the two.  Mary is beset by double-crossing followers plotting for her freedom.  But Elizabeth (angst-ridden and Sloaney in Kate Sawyer's fine portrayal) is marooned within the aching isolation of monarchy and within an intrigue-ridden court where it would be insane to risk trust let alone love. 

Instead of taking the usual two-divas tack with this excellent play, Faction make it a true ensemble piece that convinces you that the events here are breaking news, as in the superbly imaginative use of projections that have the whiff of  a Newsnight background-feature.  The men wear modern coats on the shoulder bridging the gap between moderna and neo-Jacobean.  The blocking has a daring violence.  Light spills from open door suggesting byzantine corridors of power and corruption just out of reach,  In a brilliant touch, Mary ascends an aluminium ladder scaffold and remains at the top, making Elizabeth's guilt desolation thereafter all the more palpable.  Go.

New Diorama Theatre - Faction Theatre Company - Mary Stuart
Tue 4th - Sat 22nd September 2012 at 7.30pm. Saturday matinees at 3pm
Ticket prices: £15.50 & £12.50 concessions