Yesterday I went to see the play Mary Stuart, written by Friedrich Schiller. It was performed by Toneelgroep Amsterdam together with Toneelhuis, from Ghent, and directed by Ivo van Hove. It features Chris Nietveld as Queen Elizabeth and Halina Reijn as Mary Stuart. The play covers the final months of Mary Stuarts captivity. She has been convicted of treason, for which the sentence is death, but the sentencing, by the Queen, has not yet been done. The Queen is in doubt. One the one hand, she cannot let Mary live, she will always be a threat to her reign, and it will make her seem weak. On the other hand, she also can’t order the execution, as she is then directly responsible for killing another queen, which will incite the part of the populace that is sympathetic to Mary.
The play is fairly cerebral. It is sparse in decor and costume. A bare back wall with some benches in front for the actors to sit on while they wait their turns, a door in the middle for dramatic exits and entrances. The actors are all dressed in black. The men in costume, the women in basic dresses. All the attention is on the lines, the delivery, the interplay between the characters as they speak, fight, beg, command and despair.
The moment where Elizabeth and Mary meet, even though they never did in real life, is the the best part, performance wise. They speak of their lives as ruling women in a men’s world. About power, about responsibility, loneliness, strength and the perception of weakness, and about personal and public lives. About knowing that they are more than just Elizabeth and Mary, they know these are the moments of History. What they do then and there, is what History will reduce them to.
At the end, when the execution has been ordered, in a round-about way, we see the only moment of extravagance. Mary Stuart appears, dressed as we all know her from paintings and descriptions. No longer herself, she is (and knows it) now just the historical figure, about to be executed, about to be placed on the wrong side of History. When the deed is done, Elizabeth appears, likewise dressed as we all know her. She knows that, whatever her personal feelings on the matter, she, too, has been placed in the annals of History to be judged by the generations after her.
The only thing I couldn’t really get into was a bit in the middle where Elizabeth goes a walking, and dances in the park with one of her underlings. And since they chose, for the music, an electronic rendition of music of that period, the dance is also a weird, modern thing that I didn’t really like.
That notwithstanding, the play is excellent and deserves to be seen by as many people as possible!