Scotland is a country as much in a struggle with itself as it is with its southerly neighbour in Tony Cownie’s bold and brash staging of Liz Lochhead’s Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off at the Lyceum.
A co-production with Dundee Rep Ensemble, the piece loses none of the Scots wit and guile of the 14 year-old original, proving its irreverent yet insightful history lesson and dissection of schisms is as relevant today as it was in the late 1980s.
The cast relish the chance to strut into Lochhead’s dramatis personae. A spiky-haired Ann Louise Ross caws and preens punkily as Corbie; and Shauna Macdonald and Emily Winter as Mary and Elizabeth show women not only on different sides of the border, but with different approaches to female strength and desire.
Macdonald’s Mary is a seductive creation, her hybrid French-Scots accent giving the character a unique trait to match her striking look. Winter’s Elizabeth shows a more cunning nature, as she schemes against her cousin whilst attempting to retain a regal demeanour. Both actors are well cast in these strong roles, though it is Macdonald’s convincing portrayal of pride, compassion and conviction which shines the brightest.
Neil Murray has designed an interesting world for Mary’s characters to inhabit: a strange burlesque of glitzy modernism and urban grit, where giant crucifixes lie next to skips and statues of John Knox are topped off with traffic cone headgear. With its contradictions and lack of airs and graces, it’s a set as Scottish as the play itself.
Cownie’s production is enjoyably well-paced – though, with its loud music, explosions and burst of violence, is perhaps not for the faint-hearted. However, the Lyceum’s new season opener gets things kicked off with a sharp and punchy production which slices through any hint of historical stuffiness and shows us how little we – and our nation – have changed.
Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off runs until 15 Oct at The Royal Lyceum Theatre. More details are available on their website.