Hampstead theatre, London,
until November 26
There are a lot of big questions facing the world today, but whether Mary Queen of Scots married the Earl of Bothwell out of love or because he raped her and forced her to become his wife isn’t, in all honesty, one that keeps me up at night.
Rona Munro’s Mary is a wordy, earnest and recondite play, but Roxana Silbert directs with such a sense of purpose that it is not nearly as boring as it might have been.
We get to know Mary and consider her predicament through three characters: a maid at Holyrood Palace called Agnes (Rona Morison), who is none too keen on Catholics and so no great fan of Mary; a conniving servant named Thompson (Brian Vernel); but mostly her trusted courtier, Sir James Melville (Douglas Henshall).
The play is based on historical fact, but strains for contemporary relevance by going big on fake news, nationalism and corruption. It also explores how het up people on these islands can get about sex. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The acting is uniformly good, but only the character of Sir James seems to have been properly thought through. Henshall – best known for the television shows Primeval and Shetland – delivers a compelling performance. The writing lets down the other characters. I didn’t entirely buy Agnes’s change of heart about Mary towards the end and Thompson just seemed too much of a cartoon baddie.
Ashley Martin-Davis’s set gives the production something of the feeling of a courtroom drama and Matt Haskins’s lighting design accentuates the moments of tension. The play’s 90 minutes pass effortlessly enough, but ultimately one was left feeling it was much ado about nothing.