Returning to the Royal Lyceum where it premiered in 1987, Liz Lochhead’s vibrant examination of the way contemporary Scotland’s sense of identity has been forged by the myths of its history - rather than the facts - is given a fine production under Tony Cownie’s assured direction.
A scene from Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh Photo: Douglas McBride
Cownie wields his ensemble with real authority, giving the play voice in a set by Neil Murray which teams with the rubble of modern Scotland. A red telephone box surmounted by a crown of thorns, John Knox’s statue with traffic cone dunce-cap, and a skip filled with a rubble of street signs and a crucifix.
Ann Louise Ross is in fantastic form as Corbie, the crow chorus figure commentating and laughing at the brief history of Mary Queen of Scots and her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England. Shauna Macdonald is an upright, yet not priggish, Mary who expects better of her subjects than they are prepared to give. Emily Winter’s Elizabeth has a cold facade and clear understanding of Machiavellian power. Both also excel as each other’s hand-servants - the cousins never actually met.
Rising from the ensemble, Stephen McCole is a forceful and alluring Earl Bothwell, quite the foil to Liam Brennan’s supercilious Knox. Lewis Hart’s feeble-minded Darnley is easily pushed into Mary’s arms, where his hedonism keeps them both from increasing power and gives Kevin Lennon’s quiet Riccio an emotional void to fill.
With the addition of Morna Young contributing to the ensemble and providing onstage music, this is a tight, inventive production that uses humour to great advantage but never wallows in its own comedy.