On the Rocks: Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off


Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off
Dir. Al Gillespie

Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off is a play of division, a story of two queens who don’t understand each other and about a land that cannot reconcile its own religious and social segregation. Upon the first lines of our charismatic Corbie, there was only one noticeable division in the audience – whether you were Scottish or not Scottish. If you are the latter and had never read the play, you might have encountered some problems. Still, for those who do understand Scots, this production was just as entertaining as I had hoped.

Anyone who has heard of Liz Lochhead’s 1987 modern classic will know that it was written by a Scot for the Scots. A ten second Google search might have helped those audience members that spent the first few minutes of the play initially whispering, “What are they even saying?” Despite this, the strength of the cast made for very few noticeable language blunders and none that interrupted the flow of the production. It has to be said that the cast and crew of the production did an admirable job with staging. Some of the choreography, particularly in the opening scenes was somewhat awkward. Nonetheless, the cast did a great job of filling the space given to them. La Corbie in particular moved with grace and infectious, jovial charisma that kept the play consistently afloat.

The two leading ladies of the play performed outstandingly. Elizabeth (Beth Robertson), hilariously aware of her own grandeur, was played wonderfully. Diplomatic, manipulative and petulant all at once, she embodied everything that you would expect in the caricature of Elizabeth I. Much like the historical figure herself, she represented a series of dichotomies that meant I neither liked nor disliked her but still respected her for her strength of character. Mary (Shonagh Smith) was perhaps less fiery than I had expected (she is, after all, a Frenchified Scot). Timidity notwithstanding, she was acted out with grace and charm. The bizarre blend of French and Scottish was near perfectly executed. The acting cast as a whole was impressively strong, although I personally would have preferred a more severe, less flamboyant interpretation of John Knox (Neil Christie).

Perhaps the only real complaint I have about the production was with volume. I detest being the reviewer that focuses on technical issues and usually I can forgive and forget a lot of them. However with the language already being a polarising factor for half the audience, it did at times lead to misunderstanding for those not familiar with the play. I personally thought the Scots language itself was well enunciated and clear, but the success in replicating the originally dialects of the play only goes so far when people can’t hear what’s being said.

Technical niggles aside, Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off provided a quality night of entertainment. With a performance that was marvellously witty, dark and occasionally ridiculous, the production team of MQS have done their national poet proud.


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