By McKenna Johnson
Friedrich Schiller’s play tells the story of the power struggle between Elizabeth I of England (Madison Hall) and Mary, Queen of Scots (Miriam Edwards), once Mary seeks asylum in England after being forced to abdicate the throne of Scotland. Intrigue is everywhere, and in a European court, no one can be trusted. Elizabeth’s claim to the throne isn’t secure while Mary lives, but Elizabeth isn’t confident that executing Mary is the best path.
In fifth grade, I had an English exchange teacher from Manchester who taught my class about the Tudor and Stuart dynasties, and I’ve been hooked on this time period since. The books I’ve read, ranging from a biography of Catherine of Aragon to a fictional diary of Mary Stuart written for children, have made me a little more informed about the subject matter than the average audience member, and I was not disappointed by this play. On the contrary, I have a hard time finding things to criticize.
Director Stephanie Breinholt has loved Mary Stuart for years, and her knowledge of the story and her connection to the characters comes through. The resources dramaturg Greta Gebhard put in the program helps the audience understand the historical background, and her mark is felt in the nuance deftly introduced into the play. The performance is impeccable, both intricately planned and expertly executed.
The set design (Nat Reed) utilizes color and space to recreate the world of the British court. Silver hangings, gold frames, a silver stool, and a golden throne are virtually the only modifications to the Margetts Theatre. The simplicity both recalls Elizabethan theatre and helps the audience imagine that they are in the castles of queens.
The costume design (Rebekah Silver Jackson) makes the experience immersive. The dresses of Queens Elizabeth and Mary in particular help the audience understand each character and convey the splendor and power of the royal court. For example, Mary Stuart’s dress shows her Catholic faith and continental upbringing.
Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth’s hair design (Isabelle Ballard) is tasteful and elegant, yet full of characteristic Tudor opulence. If Ballard had styled the real Queen Elizabeth, she might have been the one person in England safe from confinement in the Tower of London.
Edwards recreates Mary’s spirit, pride, and intelligence, speaking with the air of one who has been a queen practically from birth. Meanwhile, Hall fluidly communicates Elizabeth’s complexity — her sense of duty, her selfishness, her fear, her insecurity, and her love.
Leicester (Solomon Reynolds) is appropriately ambitious and self-serving, and Reynolds keeps the audience guessing as to where the character’s loyalties lie. Burleigh (Erin Ellis) is driven and steely-eyed, never swaying from his purpose. Finally, Dylan Wright plays Mortimer with the fervor of a besotted zealot, and by the end of the terrifying scene in which Mortimer and Mary Stuart have a confrontation, the audience has the same reaction to Mortimer that Mary does.
The play also utilizes music to set the appropriate mood and invoke religious themes and considerations (Matthew Kupferer). The music is beautiful and helps the audience feel transported to the 16th Century.
My only issue with the play was with the accents, which in general weren’t spoken consistently or thoroughly. Edwards’s accent, in particular, confused me, as it wasn’t Scots or French, as one would expect Mary’s accent to be. My boyfriend and I weren’t sure what accent we were hearing.
However, the accent issue didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the play. My boyfriend enjoyed the play as well, and he understood the plot perfectly well without having previous knowledge of the Tudors and Stuarts.
I loved Mary Stuart, and I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone, though the BYU arts website lists the minimum age as 12.
Mary Stuart is now one of my favorite plays. Playgoers of all education levels can enjoy the story and connect to the past in a new way, regardless of whether they previously knew about this piece of British history. Get your tickets today: this show is worth every penny.
BYU presents Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller
Margetts Theatre, Franklin S. Harris Fine Arts Center, Brigham Young University
March 9–10, 14–17, 20–24, 7:30 PM
Mary Stuart Facebook Event