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Henry Lawson Theatre Inc: Mary Stuart - Review by Daniel Conway

One of the subjects I studied at university is history, and one thing you learn as you study is that history is essentially a series of narratives based on truth. Yes, of course, there are historical records of events, but more often than not, what we have is a record of who was there, what happened, and how it happened; very rarely are we ever given the why. We speculate on the why, we make assumptions, some more founded than others. But often in service to the why, people are cast in the narrative of history as either heroes or villains, often to the detriment of the complex human person. This is at the heart of the Henry Lawson Theatre's play Mary Stuart, duality.

Director Heather McGreal's vision is clear when you watch Mary Stuart; this is a play about relationships and motivations. The choice to have a bare set, aside from a few key props, is always a bold one, but one that I feel, in this instance, is very successful. Aside from a beautiful window set piece, the actors filled the stage and did not have to contend with moving props or cumbersome transitions. McGreal also wisely put energy into not only performance but costumes. McGreal, Barbera Vasileseu, and Jake Martin have done an exceptional job on the costumes. Each one is so detailed and period accurate and must have been painstaking work. These costumes really allow the audience to buy into the reality of the stage and are some of the best I have ever seen in a stage of this size.

The epicentre of the play is the performances of Rebecca Fletcher (Mary Stuart) and Nicole Smith (Queen Elizabeth). Both women command the stage in two very different ways. Fletcher is poised and regal; there is weary resolution in her Mary Stuart. Smith, on the other hand, gets more to play with in terms of emotional range. Elizabeth is coy, playful one moment and capricious and vindictive the next. Both women project the strength of women who have been through a lot and have had to survive at every step. It is because of this that the single scene where they share the stage and interact is a highlight of the play. It is charged and moved along by these two actors who clearly know and trust each other so well.

In the same way that the women at the heart of this play are balanced equals, they are surrounded by men who complement and contrast so well. The fair and reasonable Paulet, played by Mark Prophet, is balanced by Anthony Brown's cruel and zealous Burleigh. The energy both men bring to the stage really adds dynamics to the scenes they share. Both performers do a lot with their physicality; Brown is imposing and authoritative while Prophet is, until the last act, firm and assured. This duality is also found in Mortimer and Leicester, played by Gabriel Pope and Anthony Ashdown respectively. Both men give wonderful performances that focus on the love and obsession their characters have for the leading ladies. Just like the men they are playing, Pope and Ashdown do a fabulous job of supporting the women they are concerned with and show amazing range in how they communicate these desires and how they respond to the whims of Queen Elizabeth.

Duality is once again found in the form of the "help". A centering force on stage is Aurel Vasileseu as Shrewsbury, Elizabeth's confidant. In a room full of chaos, anger, and cruelty, often Vasileseu's quiet calmness grounds the scenes he is in and brings humanity to the interactions of Queen Elizabeth. This contrasts with Rhys Ward's Davidson, who is unsure of what to do and is a victim of the chaos. The ensemble is rounded out by Angela Pezzano playing Aubespine, a verbal punching bag for Elizabeth, and Aimee Baker-Smith, who plays a servant girl. Aimee doesn't have lines, but plays the role children have often played in history, overlooked observers who see the very best and the very worst of us.

Mary Stuart is not a short play, and the night I saw it, there was still some ironing out with the rhythm of the performance from some lines here and there, but that is always the case at the start of a run. I give Mary Stuart 4 letters that may or may not need to be delivered out of 5.

Photography by Tayah Gulyas

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