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Review of 2019 Stratford Festival Production

Mary, Queen of England gets some good press. It comesfrom Kate Hennig in her play Mother’s Daughter now playing in the StudioTheatre in Stratford.

Hennig has given us The Last Wife about KatherineParr, Henry VIII’s sixth spouse and The Virgin Trial about the troubles ofElizabeth I before she succeeded to the throne. Mother’s Daughter is aboutElizabeth’s half-sister and predecessor Queen Mary who has earned theunfortunate soubriquet of Bloody Mary. Do not confuse her with Mary Queen ofScots.

Mary’s mother was Katherine of Aragon (Catalina in theplay) , Henry VIII’s first wife and as the title suggests we get a doubleportrait of the two queens. Hennig gives us a largely positive portrait of Marybrilliantly acted by Shannon Taylor. Mary is intelligent, resolute, attractive,merciful, scrupulous and tolerant. Not all at once and not all the time but wedo see these traits in her. Dressed in a long skirt and white blouse at thebeginning and donning a military uniform and boots later in the play, Marynever veers from being independent, assertive and self-assured.

She must deal with her mother Katherine who tells herthat she is a figment of her imagination. Queen Katherine was dumped by Henryafter 23 years of marriage on the pretext that his marriage to her wasunlawful. She had been married to Henry’s brother when both were young, andHenry found biblical support that the marriage was sinful. When he married her,he found biblical support that marrying his brother’s widow was fine becausethey had not consummated the marriage.

In the play Katherine also called Catalina (played byIrene Poole) is a vengeful, angry and ruthless woman who wants her daughter torestore Catholicism to England. Mary stands her ground for tolerance andreconciliation, at least in the beginning.

Mary has two friends/advisors in Bassett (Beryl Bain)and Susan (Maria Vacratsis) who provide contradictory advice on what to doabout rebellious subjects and competing claims to the crown. She also has Simon(Gordon Patrick White) a friend, diplomat and messenger about happenings in theoutside world.

The immediate problem is what to do with Lady Jane(Andrea Rankin), a teenager who has been given the throne, and her relatives.

Then the major issue is dealing with PrincessElizabeth (Jessica B. Hill) and her mother Anne Boleyn who, like Katherineappears as a figment of the imagination or a ghost. Elizabeth and Anne areplayed by the same actor. We see the animosities and difficult relationshipsamong the characters. Elizabeth wants the throne and Mary wants to circumventthat by getting pregnant and providing an heir. Alas, it does not work, andMary is not ready to execute Elizabeth.

The costumes are mostly modern or non-descript and thelanguage of the play is completely modern, colloquial with frequent use ofexpletives. Expression like “gee, whiz” and “who is running the joint?’ givethe dialogue a less than elevated flavour at times but the pacing of thearguments is brisk and often powerful. All handled well by director Alan Dilworthbut you do have to get used to modern, colloquial and at times salty Englishspoken by 16th century characters in mostly modern dress.

The set by Lorenzo Savoini consists of a large tableand chair with border lights in the back and on the stage in different colorsdesigned by Kimberly Purtell.

Bloody Mary has been getting bad press for more thanfour centuries, but recently more sympathetic reviews have appeared. The factremains that despite her self-described tolerance, she became a tyrant andburned a few hundred Protestants at the stake.

In the final scene we see Mary and Elizabeth standingposthumously in Westminster Abbey looking at the tomb that the two of themshare. Elizabeth became Gloriana, poor Mary remains bloody while their cousinMary, Queen of Scots is more famous than both largely because she had her headchopped off. Sic passit gloria mundi.

We get a fascinating and imaginative look at someEnglish history mixed with some fiction but never failing to entertain.

Mother’s Daughter continues in repertory untilOctober 13, 2019 at the Studio Theatre. 34 George Street, Stratford, Ontario

July 12, 2019

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