Review – Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off

May 23 2013 | By More

✭✭✩✩✩   Straightforward

The Cast of Edinburgh People's Theatre's production of Mary Queen of Scots got her Head Chopped Off on a publicity shoot at Craigmiller Castle, Edinburgh. LR: Anne Mackenzie (Chorus), Lynn Cameron (Elizabeth), Colin Povey (Riccio), Lynne Hurst (Mary), Kyle Sutherland (Darnley), Mags Swan (La Corbie), Kathryn Clark (Chorus), Graham Bell (Knox) and  Matthew Stanhope (Hepburn O’Bothwell). Photo © Robert Fuller.

Publicity shoot at Craigmillar Castle. Photo © Robert Fuller.

Church Hill Theatre
Wed 22 – Sat 25 May 2013
Review by Thom Dibdin

A strong and straightforward telling of the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and her cousin, Queen Elizabeth the first of England, rises out of Edinburgh People’s Theatre’s production at the Church Hill Theatre until Saturday.

Liz Lochhead’s play, which premiered in 1987, is a mythologising account of that relationship. An examination, using verse and a fine, inquisitive eye (through her chorus character, La Corbie, the Crow), of how it is a reflection of Scotland’s relationship with England – itself a relationship based as much on myth as on reality.

As a play, Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off is also a reflection of power, of the mismatch of politics with religion, of love with power and of the way in which powerful women – in a much more exaggerated way than the men around them – have to negotiate and own their own stories if they are to retain their position.

Director Will MacIver finds some of this. He brings out sincere performances from Lynne Hurst, playing Mary as a young, hesitant woman who just wants to get on with her life, and Lynn Cameron whose Elizabeth is forthright and unforgiving, the kind of person who has an opinion on everything and will let you know exactly and in great detail why it is the right one.

Both actresses do excellent jobs, doubling as the other Queen’s maidservant. There’s never any doubt as to what is going on, or confusion created when they do, as the action swings back and forth between the two courts during the time when Mary was wanting to get married and Elizabeth manipulating who it should be from afar.

Mags Swan makes a comfortably familiar La Corbie, dropping harsh croaks into her lines just to remind you of her status. She finds the meaning in her lines and keeps the plot on course.

A suitably gallant and randy Bothwell

The surrounding characters are given more or less successful interpretations which are never less than comprehensible.

Matthew Stanhope is a suitably gallant and randy Bothwell, who clearly has rather less than appropriate thoughts for his queen – but who is only able to find fulfilment with her maid. Graham Bell’s Knox is suitably self-loathing, but feels too ineffectual to reflect what is being shown.

Buy the script:

Colin Povey is solid as Riccio, Mary’s favourite, the hunchback who was her secretary and was murdered by conspirators led by her husband, Darnley. But there is no sense of a real emotional bond between them, even as he gives her a massage or reads her tarot.

In the role of Darnley, Kyle Sutherland puts flesh on the bones of the story as a young man caught up in a relationship that he never has a hope of getting to grips with. But you long for him to begin to express that frustration, in his performance.

And that is the problem with this production. It does enough to make the story work but never enough to make it shine. There is a sense of the history here, but never a sense of its mythologisation. History is told, but never given a sense of wonderment.

Liz Lochhead’s script is as rollicking, clever, funny and boundary-pushing as it was when it was written, even in changed circumstances. That does come through in EPT’s production. It’s competent stuff, but with so much potential it feels as if it needs to be rather more than that.

Running time 2 hours 5 mins.
Run ends Saturday
Church Hill Theatre, Morningside Road EH10 4DR. Wed-Sat, 7.30pm.
Full details on EPT website:


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Comments (1)

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  1. Susan Wales says:

    I’m going tonight… 🙂