MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS, an historical masque

Dunedin Gasworks Museum, Dunedin

16/10/2013 - 16/10/2013

Production Details

Charmian Smith has written an article about this in the  Otago Daily Times, Thursday 3 Oct 2013:

Sad song of Mary Stuart

Born to a position of extreme power but personally ill-equipped to deal with the challenges, Mary Stuart was a tragic figure.

Her story is told in Mary Queen of Scots, an historical masque by Jonathan Cweorth performed by the Rare Byrds as part of ”Scots Rant”, an evening of early Scottish music for the Dunedin Celtic Arts Festival.

It’s conceived as a section of a larger work about Renaissance queens he hopes to write, according to Cweorth, who also directs the show.

”I’d read about John Knox and his invective against female monarchs and I realised there were quite a few female rulers about the same time, despite all the obstacles that were in the way of women getting into power,” he said.

Among them were Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Elizabeth and Mary Tudor of England, and Catherine de Medici in France. [More]


Mary Queen of Scots, an historical masque,
at Dunedin Gasworks Museum, Braemar St, Dunedin,
on Wednesday, October 16, at 7.30pm.
Bookings from:

For more information, go to

Theatre ,

Nostalgia, humour and audacity

Review by Helen Watson White 19th Oct 2013

You may have heard of the genre of masque, a symbolic show of dance and music, with or without words; but – apart from Oamaru’s Donna Demente – have you heard of an original masque being scripted in the twenty-first century? 

Jonathan Cweorth’s Mary, Queen of Scots: an Historical Masque premiered last Wednesday night at one of Dunedin’s most historical buildings, sung, danced and performed by members of the Rare Byrds Early Music Consort and Chorus. It was the second half of their Scots Rant concert, one of the seventeenth-century items in the first half providing the title for the whole.

How was the masque any different from the concert format, a sequence of Renaissance and Baroque songs and instrumental pieces? First, the lighting changed to a stage focus, turning Brian McCormack’s painted ‘tapestry’ backdrop into a plausible interior of a noble or royal house. The costumes were also much more elaborate, the most impressive being Charmian Smith’s beaded and ruffed creations for Mary Stuart and Jane Kennedy her lady-in-waiting.

There wasn’t a lot of room to dance, but the opening song, ‘When I was a girl in France’ was accompanied by graceful hand gestures and a stately pas de deux by Mary (Ana Good) and Hannah Grills as the young gentlewoman, Jane. 

In his introduction, librettist and director Jonathan Cweorth described the chosen music as “mainly sixteenth-century, mainly Scots”. To the kinds of airs familiar in the Rare Byrds’ repertoire he set cleverly pointed words delineating the stages in Mary’s life, giving us the script to follow and take away.

The musicians were dominant throughout, the singers (robed as lords) contributing choruses and refrains. Musical director Alan Edwards provided a grounding accompaniment on the spinet, which unified the piece as it moved through contrasting events and moods. 

Apart from short connecting fragments, some in recitative, narrative continuity was best provided by the person of the Queen herself, singing all five songs of her life.  Ana Good clearly enjoyed embodying this complex woman – not just a historical figure, but a human being. Music and words both helped her in expressing, by turns, nostalgia, humour and audacity. When imprisoned and charged with treason by her “cold-hearted cousin Elizabeth,” Mary becomes defiance personified, keeping alive the hope of triumph, only to fall into “bitter woe and deep dismay”:
As pearls slip from a broken string
My fondest hopes now fall away
For I have wagered everything
And lost two kingdoms in the play

It was a bold move for Cweorth to attempt poetry in Tudor style, but he had already paid tribute to poets like Spenser, Marlowe, Wyatt and Shakespeare in his award-winning Sex-Death-Magic montage at the Vertical Aerial Dance Studio last year. He’s no stranger to mixed-media performance either, wowing reviewer Terry MacTavish in March this year with his fantastical Mr Faust & Dr Jabberwocky: A Steampunk Fire-Fable in this same 150-year-old museum.

A Gasworks Museum is obviously suited to Steampunk stuff, but it was a most appropriate venue for this work too. As for the legend of Mary, Queen of Scots, so for the history-soaked building, Cweorth proves there’s life left in the old lady.


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