Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Mary Stuart Review

Stratford Festival 2013
Mary Stuart
A Drama by Friedrich Schiller
Tom Patterson Theatre
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Running now through September 21
Information and Tickets at

Mary Stuart – A Production for the Ages!
Rating **** (4 out of four stars)
Reviewed by David Grapes – August 2013

There is an old adage in journalism that you should always lead with the most important message of your story. So readers, I will put it right up front for you. The Stratford Festival’s 2013 production of Friedrich Schiller’s unremarkable and fictional account of the relationship between Mary Stuart Queen of Scotts and Elizabeth Queen of England is nothing short of brilliant.

Not only is Mary Stuart the best production of an already stunning 2013 season but also one of the finest classical pieces that I have ever witnessed in my thirty plus years of writing about the Stratford Festival.

Certainly, some of the credit must go to the 2005 adaptation by English playwright Peter Oswald. He takes the large clunky text and convoluted plot and trims and focuses it in ways that make it playable for the actors.

And act it they do! Watching this great ensemble cast that Cimolino assembled for Mary Stuart is like being a jungle voyeur and observing hungry tigers devour their pray. These great actors know how to gnarl, chew and spit out this complex language.

However, to make truly great theatre the actors/tigers also need the firm hand of an accomplished director/trainer. Directed by Stratford’s newly crowned Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino they get that in spades. From the moment the play begins Cimolino’s deft touch can be seen all over this production, from his interesting and overt mix of modern and period in the scenery and costumes to his more subtle use of lighting and sound to move us from location to location. But in the end it is still those glorious performances that he gets from each of his actors that make this Mary Stuart so special.

Of course, it does not hurt that those performances are anchored by two of North America’s finest classical actresses Seana McKenna and Luck Peacock. While they only have one extended scene together (which according to historians never took place) it serves as the emotional core of this otherwise intellectual play. Waiting for this scene to occur is a little like standing on the beach as a hurricane is approaching. You know it is going to be powerful and yet you are still shocked at the enormity of the event. Here again Cimolino, McKenna and Peacock do not disappoint us.

History has already given us the outcome, however, the time we finally get to the final scene where Mary (Peacock) says goodbye to her attendants and takes her last rites there is not a dry eye in the house.  It is one of the most beautiful and haunting scenes that I have witnessed in my 30 plus years of writing about the Festival. This scene stayed with me for days!

Yet as fine as McKenna and Peacock are in this production they are also surrounded by the superbly nuanced performances of Stratford veterans Patricia Collins, Ben Carlson, Brian Dennehy, Peter Hutt and Geraint Wyn Davies.

Mary Stuart is the perfect example of what Stratford does at its best. You take a worthy script, give it an amazing ensemble cast under the guidance of a brilliant director, place it in a world that we understand, make the classical language understandable to a modern audience and you create theatrical memories that will live in people’s memories for the rest of their lives.

If you love classical theatre you must see this production!

A final warning: Mary Stuart has been SRO since it opened in May, therefore, you may have to scalp a ticket or stand in line for a return in order to see this magnificent production. The good news is that there is already talk of adding addition performances. I hope for your sake that rumor is true!

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