Historical adaptations that follow the stories of monarchs with infamous reputations, such that of Mary Stuart Queen of Scots, are often easily in danger of being overdone. These remakes, that have the potential to become overbearing, usually grace our screens in the forms of television series, cinema productions or stage performances, all of which stem from a history curriculum introduced to many us from the get-go of primary school. As a figure whose reputation precedes her, Queen Mary is so well-known that playwrights often have difficulty in striking a balance between creating a character that bares true to the monarch, and avoiding predictable clichés amongst an audience who are well familiarised with British history. “Glory on Earth” provides a fresh, yet faithful, look at Mary’s story. Linda McLean’s new interpretation is given life by David Greig and together, they make this complex history much more accessible to a modern audience.
The story encompasses the four meetings between Mary Queen of Scots, and John Knox, a Protestant reformer, over the course of two years. Each meeting becomes increasingly more intense and Mary begins to slowly buckle under the pressure which is put upon her by Knox, both through his intensive meetings and inflammatory sermons. Whilst focusing on these sessions, the play also incorporates other parts of Queen Mary’s life, from when she first sets foot on Scottish soil after sailing from France, up until her untimely death.
The audience’s interest is piqued by the presence of John Knox on stage from the onset of the play, who is cast in front of the curtain before the play has even begun, as if assessing the crowd in their daily lives. This is swiftly followed by Mary’s death and the audience is immediately immersed in her world. The scenes are sleek and each element grabs the audience’s attention, from the costumes and the lighting, to the characters and their interactions. Mary’s young spirit and extravagant costumes easily distinguish her from the older and more pious, Knox, presented to the audience clothed in a deep black. Karen Tennent’s set-design use of minimalist arches also leave large intermittent spaces on the stage, that seem to provide a metaphorical gap which signifies the role that Mary must now fulfil.
Throughout the play it is easy to see Mary’s high-spirited nature, but we are also made audience to her darkest fears, lonely days and difficult dealings with those who do not see eye to eye with her. This is also true for the character of John Knox; first a villain, showing his more vulnerable side, followed by a humanisation that makes him more relatable to the audience.
One of the greatest additions to this piece is the ensemble, or “The Marys”. They are simultaneously Mary’s beloved ladies in waiting, a Greek chorus, and a hoard of other characters in conjuncture with the story; along with this, they perform live on stage with instruments as well, such as the harp and trumpet. The music provides an extra layer of volatility that mirrors Mary’s character; at heart she is a young girl who wishes to sing and dance away her days, but fate has another plan for her, that of a young Queen. At points, the music also reflects Mary’s past; that of her mother and of the French court, a time when things had been easier and more carefree.
Rona Morison, gives a stunning performance as Queen Mary, with her passion and strength clearly shown through her commendable portrayal of Mary’s vulnerability without making her character come across as weak. She ensures Mary remains a queen of integrity whilst also being very young and particularly stubborn. She is complemented by Jamie Sives’ menacing portrayal of John Knox. Sives plays Knox in such a way that the audience are able to sympathise with the character, even if they disagree with him, showing a soul and stubbornness akin to Morison’s performance of Mary.
Although Mary and Knox come from different backgrounds and religions, they appear evenly matched within this production. They may have clashed historically, but Linda McLean’s writing shows that there is no objective right and wrong way of perceiving history, only a battle between those of differing opinions.“Glory on Earth” gives
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