Sunday, July 31, 2016

Mary Stuart

The highlight of the past week was a trip to the theatre. Two of my flatmates, who are also Central students, and I journeyed over to our school to see Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller, adapted by Ben Naylor. This production featured the actors from the MA Acting - Classical course. I know many of them from their participation in 8Squared and it was wonderful to see them in a full performance tailored for their particular practice.

Friedrich Schiller was a German poet and playwright who lived and worked in the latter half of the 18th century. He was a contemporary, friend and collaborator with Johann Wolfgang Goethe. Many of his works became popular source material for composers of his day. Beethoven wrote Ode to Joy based on a poem of Schiller's by the same name. Rossini wrote William Tell famous for the William Tell Overture based on Schiller's play also by the same name. Other notable works include: The Robbers, Don Carlos, Wallenstein Trilogy.

The play we saw was an adaptation of Schiller's original script of Mary Stuart adapted by the MA Classical Actors' director and course leader Ben Naylor. The play featured exquisite period appropriate costumes by Chantelle Gerrard, a sparse but smart set by Max Dorey, clever lighting designed by Joshua Gadsby (a Central alum) and intriguing sound designed by David Hermann.

The play focused on the last days of Mary Stuart, a critical part of British history. Mary Stuart was Queen of Scotland and Catholic. She was a cousin of Queen Elizabeth I and a some time rival for Elizabeth's throne. Elizabeth's father Henry VIII started a huge conflict by splitting from the Catholic Church and initiating the Protestant Church of England in order to divorce his Catholic first wife, Catherine and marry Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn, in the hopes of producing a male heir. This split still has repercussions to this day but at the time it made for a very unstable environment for young Elizabeth. As the Catholics and the Protestant battled over the "true" religion and who was the legitimate heir to the throne, Mary Stuart was often the favorite candidate for the Catholics and sometimes she was even in agreement with her supporters, that she should indeed have England's throne.

In Scotland, Mary Stuart found herself in a scandal over the death of her second husband who was thought to have been murdered by Mary's third husband who also happened to be Protestant. Mary's Scottish subjects turned on her and she fled to England to seek sanctuary with her cousin and fellow Queen, Elizabeth. Elizabeth, however, felt imprisoning her was a safer bet to keep England's crown safe from Mary. Eventually charges of conspiracy for Mary to overthrow Elizabeth garnered enough evidence for Elizabeth to allow for Mary's execution. She was beheaded on the 8th of February 1587.

Mary Stuart did however have something to do with the English crown. Her son, James VI of Scotland succeeded Elizabeth I after Elizabeth died with no children of her own to inherit the throne. He became James I of England and united the Kingdoms of Scotland and England under one monarch.

The play did well in illustrating the inner turmoil of both Elizabeth and Mary as well as the many nobles and advisors caught up in the politics of life and death. I was very happy to see a Schiller play on stage as I had never had the opportunity prior to this event.

August is now upon us and I am still organizing my thesis research. I'll keep you posted on all the happenings. In the meantime, have a look around and see if there are any historical dramas being produced in your region.

Take care!

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