Get our free email newsletter with just one click

Mary, Queen of Scots review at the Old Church, London – ‘a thrilling, up-close encounter’

Flora McIntosh and Emma Watkinson in OperaUpClose's Mary Queen of Scots. Photo: Andreas Grieger
by -

Fittingly, OperaUpClose’s new touring production of Mary, Queen of Scots opened in London’s only surviving Elizabethan church, its simple nave transformed into a theatre by means of a catwalk covered in a mirrored dance floor that reflects the beams and stonework. Two scaffold-like structures provide the lighting rig, and the tiny ensemble, led by Paul McKenzie on piano, is hidden in the chapel.

This blazing Donizetti drama marks the company’s 10th anniversary. In 2009, it performed La Bohème in a Kilburn pub and has since given 500 performances in various venues. The premise never changes – to provide opportunities for people to experience opera in their lives – and, in small venues, the experience is intensified. Sitting just feet away from singers trained to reach the back of an opera house can be thrilling, especially with powerhouse voices such as those of Philippa Boyle (Queen Elizabeth) and Flora McIntosh (Mary), but it can be aurally overwhelming until you get used to it.

Mary, Queen of Scots revolves around a fictional – and disastrous – meeting between the two women, and the focus switches from the imperious Elizabeth to Mary, who claims victory by facing her death with courage. Boyle’s impressive soprano, laser-like in accuracy and attack, matches the warmer but no less punchy mezzo of McIntosh. Together, they reign supreme, with the support of Emma Watkinson as Anna.

The men – Cecil (Jan Capinski), Talbot (Julian Debreuil) and even the ‘hero’ Leicester, sung with puppyish enthusiasm by tenor Cliff Zammit Stevens – are eclipsed by the two queens.

Director and librettist Robin Norton-Hale draws fine dramatic performances from the six-strong cast and makes the most of this atmospheric venue.

Want to continue reading?
Support The Stage with a subscription

We believe in fair pay for everyone who works in the arts, and that includes all our journalists and the whole team who create The Stage each week.

As a family-run, independently-owned publication, we rely on our readers' subscriptions to pay journalists to produce the informed and in-depth articles you want to read.

The Stage will always strive to report on great work across the country, champion new talent and publish impartial investigative journalism. Our independence allows us to deliver unbiased reporting that supports the performing arts industry, but we can only do this with your help.

Continue reading our quality content and support its creation with a subscription from just £4.49 →
Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Thrilling, up-close encounter with two big operatic voices