Mary Stuart

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

05/05/2011 - 28/05/2011

Production Details

Which Queen will rule the stage?

For a Queen to stand, a Queen must fall. Robyn Malcolm and Elizabeth Hawthorne star in MARY STUART, Friedrich Schiller’s thrilling account of the extraordinary relationship between England’s Elizabeth I and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s rival to the throne, playing at the Maidment Theatre from May 5.

“Terrifically exciting. Mary Stuart has never seemed more pertinent than it does in this vivid incarnation.” New York Times. 

Robyn Malcolm and Elizabeth Hawthorne have long been regarded as New Zealand Theatre royalty. So who better to embody one of the most storied rivalries in English royal history than these two theatre doyennes?

Making her 84th professional performance in Auckland, Elizabeth Hawthorne has achieved particular renown for her unforgettable performances in Auckland Theatre Company productions of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, MASTER CLASS, VITA AND VIRGINIA, THE GRADUATE, DOUBT and FEMALE OF THE SPECIES. 

Multiple award winning actress Robyn Malcolm is no stranger to playing incarcerated characters, with two of her recent roles involving her imprisoned in one way or another; as Cheryl in Outrageous Fortune and as Winnie in Beckett’s HAPPY DAYS. 

“Exhilarating! Pure class!” The Daily Telegraph

Historians and theologians have argued for centuries about which Queen had the greater claim to the English throne. After seeing Auckland Theatre Company’s thrilling new production of Friedrich Schiller’s MARY STUART, no one will doubt that both queens were born to rule.

Playwright Friedrich Schiller was transfixed by the willfulness and devious artistry of the two Queens. Coupled with the Machiavellian plots and counter plots of their male courtiers and filled with romance, mystery, political and sexual intrigue, behind the scenes scheming and betrayal, his play has the feel of a modern-day political thriller.  

Although they never met in real life, Schiller imagines a meeting between the two monarchs on the grounds at Fotheringay Castle, which leads to one of the most electrifying dramatic confrontations in theatre. 

Peter Oswald’s new translation sees their controversial lives remain brilliantly vivid and startlingly modern today. MARY STUART is not some obscure history lesson but a fast-moving narrative about the imprisoning effect of power. 

The swift-paced play is brilliant at communicating both the grim comedy of the shameless politicking and faction-ridden intrigue at court and the sense that this drama boasts not one but two tragic heroines, whose antithetical journeys are mapped out here with a piercing clarity. 

“MARY STUART is a sharp, darkly funny and mournful portrait of rulers in action and the ultimate loneliness of amoral self-advancement.” The Guardian 

The Queens lived in dangerous times, and they were undeniably dangerous women.  Knowing at all times that a single wrong step would see one will lose her head, each woman was exceptionally well equipped to command an audience’s attention; she who would be queen would out of necessity need to be a great actress. Both grew up on public stages, where their every gesture was analyzed, both were dependent on the approval of restless and fickle audiences. 

Schiller imagines Elizabeth sorely tried by the pressures of rule, but ultimately the greatest pretender of them all: acting compassionate in public, pursuing realpolitik in private, and then royally passing the buck. A woman increasingly trapped by her indecision about Mary’s fate; and the final sight of her, ashen and alone, is of a woman confronting the sacrifice of her conscience to political necessity. 

Mary is dignified yet also riven with rage and suppressed panic. Schiller sees her graduate from a tense, haunted guilt about her role in the murder of Darnley to a radiant, assured queen full of spiritual honesty. 

Mary Stuart is as much a play about the Queens as it is about the-men-behind-the-women-in-power. That’s the ultimate rub Schiller picks up on: Elizabeth and Mary are “female kings,” in a land where men are used to being governed only by men. 

Schiller shows the art of spin doctoring is an old and unworthy one. Both Queens are prisoners, at the mercy of unreliable men – Mary literally so in Fotheringay castle; Elizabeth captive to her scheming advisers and to the popular will, in the no-win situation created by her Catholic opponent’s presence. 

The cool, cruel Lord Burleigh (Stuart Devenie), is an upper-class hatchet man par excellence.  He believes Mary inspires dangerous fanaticism as a martyr figure. He accuses her of being in direct contact with cells of papist assassins and, perhaps wrongly, of masterminding their attempts to destroy Protestant rule. He doesn’t yet know about the undercover Catholic, Mortimer (Jono Kenyon), who considers it would be glorious to die for the cause and who is in league with the covertly scheming Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester (John Phelong). Mary’s old flame, Dudley, is a dapper politician through and through, combining tenderness and callous sharp moves, but also living on a knife-edge as double agent. 

Tickets for MARY STUART can be purchased from the Maidment Theatre, 09 308 2383 or

Schiller’s MARY STUART in a new version by Peter Oswald
Venue: Maidment Theatre 
Dates: 5 – 28 May
Preview:  5 – 6 May | Opening Night:  7 May
Mon-Wed: 6.30pm
Thur-Sat:  6.30pm
Sun:  4pm  

Elizabeth Hawthorne      Elizabeth Tudor
Robyn Malcolm              Mary Stuart
Hera Dunleavy               Hanna Kennedy
Jon Pheloung                 Leicester
David Aston                   Talbot
Stuart Devenie               Burleigh
Cameron Rhodes          Davison & Others
Andrew Grainger            Paulet
Jonathan Kenyon           Mortimer
George Henare              Aubespine/Melvil
Edward Peni                  Bellievre/O’Kelly/Drury
Alex Walker
Taofia Pelesasa
Steven Chudley

Set Designer                  John Parker
Lighting Designer           Philipp Dexter MSc
Costume Designer        Elizabeth Whiting 

Leads give Schiller’s royal scrap an electric edge

Review by Paul Simei-Barton 09th May 2011

ATC’S production of Mary Stuart provides a thrilling introduction to Friedrich Schiller – the philosopher, poet and playwright who is honoured in Germany with the same kind of respect that English speakers reserve for Shakespeare.

The rivalry between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots is familiar from numerous film and television dramas, but in Schiller’s radical interpretation the story becomes a deeply romantic inquiry into power, passion and the exercise of free will.

The production plunges us into a seething, chaotic world full of dissembling, double-dealing, religious fanaticism and cool Machiavellian plots. [More
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Accessible and neatly stylised

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 09th May 2011

At a time when world media is obsessed with the English royals’ pretty wedding frocks and resplendent pomp and ceremony, showcasing a perfectly dressed union of state, monarchy and church, Peter Oswald’s new version of 18th century playwright Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart takes us back to a time when having influence through power, religion, loyalty and monarchy, could literally be a matter of life or death.

And yet, though separated by centuries, Schiller’s Mary Stuart shows us that time hasn’t changed one aspect of monarchy: that the world continues to judge by appearance, rather than reality.

Plunging us into a fascinating period of history, where 1000 years of bloody and brutal anger, hatred and religious persecution had driven Scotland and England to crisis point by the late 1500s, Schiller brings two leaders, two Queens, two women, face to face.

At the heart of this meeting, is the tangible burden that Queen Elizabeth I carries – that the majority of the people of England want Mary Queen of Scots dead. Surrounded by conflicting advice, from an army of men, the vast majority with ulterior motives and self-serving agendas, Elizabeth’s decision resonates clearly with today’s Obama-Osama situation: will the execution create martyrdom that will prove a much stronger enemy?

Oswald’s version of Mary Stuart gives us a great sense of the personal sacrifice as well as the political dilemma faced by Queen Elizabeth. It is a script full of the complexities faced by both these women – two leaders of great influence in a male dominated world. 

Through the characters of Leicester, Shrewsbury and Burleigh, Oswald also captures how shrewd interpretation of the law was used to manipulate, and stall proceedings, as the influence of Parliament became increasingly louder under Elizabeth, the last of the Tudor Monarchs. 

Through debate, his script also speaks insightfully about the nature of legal application. A chilling Burleigh, played with palpable cunning by Stuart Devein next to Robyn Malcolm’s feisty Mary Stuart, creates a fine example, as she protests English law being applied in retrospect, and challenges whether he has the jurisdiction to apply English laws for her alleged crimes committed in Scotland. 

The Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) with director Colin McColl gives us an accessible and neatly stylised Mary Stuart

As sound designer Eden Mulholland’s discordant soundscape fills the auditorium, John Parker’s set design is revealed. Comprising of huge floor-to-ceiling metal screens, which could be lead-light windows in a church, or trellis on a garden wall or giant cages, they are moved around slowly like chess pieces between scenes. When we are in Queen Mary’s prison, coupled with lighting designer Phillip Dexter’s chiselled, wintry pallet and use of shadow, the effect is oppressive and chilly.

By suitable contrast, when the screens and lighting are opened wide, and Mulholland’s audio changes to a merry lute & flute tune, the brightness and opulence of the English Court is clear. McColl and this design team also create a confronting and dramatic final image.

Elizabeth Whiting’s costumes are intriguing. Rather than a strict representation of the period (1500s), her concept is indicative of the styles of the time, shown through one aspect or accessory of each piece referencing the time. She has created a whole new modern Elizabethan Era Line (of fashion), which also reiterates many of Mary Stuart’s underlying themes. (For example, oversized shoulder pads show a desire for power.) 

McColl’s cast includes some of New Zealand’s strongest stage actors. Elizabeth Hawthorne’s performance is suitably high status and regal. But she also gives us a sense of Queen Elizabeth’s pain, humanity and of how lonely it is at the top. She is surrounded by advisors, all happy to debate the pros and cons of decision making with their Queen, but ultimately it is she who has to make the bloody call.

Robyn Malcolm is a spirited and strong Mary Queen of Scots, but also captures her moments of sheer panic and vulnerability extremely well.

George Henare is delicious as Ambassador Aubespine, wooing Queen Elizabeth on behalf of the French Prince. Henare later plays Melvil, hearing Queen Mary’s final confession, with great reverence. 

David Aston plays level headed and well reasoned Shrewsbury perfectly; Andrew Grainger is a solid and uncompromising Paulet; Stuart Devenie plays Burleigh with magnificent deadpan calculation; Cameron Rhodes is excellent as the administrative servant Davison; Hera Dunleavy does well in the role of Hanna, Mary Start’s companion, as does Edward Peni in his dual roles.

While Jon Pheloung plays a persuasive and eloquent Leicester, at times I felt he needed to show more magnetism and charisma – enough to satisfy me beyond a doubt that this man could capture the heart of not just one, but two Queens.

Recent NZ Drama School Toi Whakaari graduate Jonathan Kenyon plays Mortimer as wild-eyed, impulsive and obsessed. However, the physicality in some scenes, while no doubt intending to show his love and infatuation for Catholicism and Queen Mary, comes across as creepy and primal lust. 
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