Wide-eyed and excited, a young actor from Edinburgh named Marie arrives in London with dreams of making her name and career in the big city – and promptly has her backpack grabbed from her shoulders. Disoriented, she stumbles into a pub and befriends owners Liz and Barry, who offer her a job.
A feature of this old-fashioned, swirly-carpeted, Bishop’s Finger-serving London boozer is History Night, where patrons dress as their favourite historical figure. Amid the lairy John Lennons and the helpful Nelson Mandelas, Marie tries her hand at Mary, Queen of Scots, and finds a regal bearing that helps her into her dream job at the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Co-written by Sarah MacGillivray and Phil Bartlett, directed by Bartlett and performed by MacGillivray (the pair trained at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and Bartlett is currently resident director on the UK tour of Matilda), this punchy piece of single-actor storytelling belies the sweet, hopeful rags-to-riches arc that it follows for most of its duration with a killer sting in the tail.
Against a simple bar counter set, MacGillivray’s performance is a fine showcase for her talents, but one which shows what she can do while staying truthful to the characters she slips in and out of with ease.
Most crucially to this very transportable piece, the relationship between Marie and Liz and their historical counterparts Mary and Queen Elizabeth I is subtly foregrounded, all the better to show the timeless nature of ambition and jealousy’s corrupting effects.