Mary at Hampstead Theatre

Mary reviews at Hampstead Theatre ★★★

A reviews round-up for Mary at Hampstead Theatre starring Douglas Henshall, Rona Morison and Brian Vernel.

Rona Munro’s companion piece to The James Plays cycle, this new political thriller about the downfall of Mary Queen of Scots, marks her return to Hampstead after her successes with Bold Girls (1991), The Maiden Stone (1995), Snake (1999), Little Eagles (2011) and Donny’s Brain (2012). Munro is famous for her work on Doctor Who as well as her writing for film, TV and radio.

Mary runs from 21 October 2022 until 26 November 2022 at Hampstead Theatre, London.

The cast features Douglas Henshall (BBC’s Shetland; Network, National Theatre; Betrayal, Comedy), Rona Morison (The Haystack, Hampstead Theatre; The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar) and Brian Vernel (Stories, National Theatre; The Seagull, Lyric Hammersmith; Dunkirk; Star Wars: The Force Awakens). 

Written by Rona Munro, the play is directed by Roxana Silbert with set & costume design by Ashley Martin-Davis, lighting design by Matt Haskins, composed and sound design by Nick Powell, movement by Ayse Tashkiran, casting by Helena Palmer CDG. Assistant director is Marlie Haco.

More reviews to follow.

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Average Critics Rating

Mary reviews

The Times

"Lots of cut and thrust but we rarely feel real lives are at stake"

"Douglas Henshall, star of the TV series Shetland, is superb as the haughty, dyspeptic courtier forced to defend himself and his queen under interrogation."

"Roxana Silbert’s production is being marketed as a thriller — a word that has been attached to a few decidedly non-thrillerish plays lately — the inquisitorial mood and lengthy, discursive exchanges are closer to that of an ill-tempered seminar. We look on, we strain to follow every historical reference, but for all the cut and thrust, we seldom feel real lives are at stake."

"An intelligent but frustrating play that sometimes loses its way in a labyrinth of words."

Clive Davis, The Times
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The Evening Standard

"Rona Munro’s queen’s tale utterly fails to spark"

"This play about Mary Stuart draws juicy contemporary parallels but this talky and monotonous production is less than the sum of its parts"

"Weird that a play about Scotland’s most famous queen, and about the historic denial or distortion of women’s stories, should largely consist of two men arguing in a room for 90 minutes."

"It’s a play with big ideas about truth and political expediency, and about what has to be sacrificed in pursuit of an ideal – in this case, the identity, religion and independence of Scotland, where Catholic Mary ruled a newly Protestant people. In practice, it’s a series of grimly repeated disputes about whether Mary was a willing spouse to her third husband Bothwell – strongly suspected of killing her second, Darnley – or a victim of rape."

"The actor playing Mary, Meg Watson, gets one mute appearance then a few vacuous lines. Having sat mutely backstage throughout, a 16-strong female chorus is brought on at the end to shout a bit, then step back while the leads take a bow. What a waste of these women’s time."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Stage

"Fiercely relevant"

"Fascinating reframing of the downfall of Mary, Queen of Scots continues Rona Munro’s epic history cycle"

"Written by playwright Rona Munro, Mary is a tight, incisive political drama that re-examines these events from the perspectives of servants and courtiers caught at a turning point in history."

"Munro’s short, keenly focused script is fiercely relevant, using the historical setting as a springboard into a nuanced discussion of knotty, disquieting themes: how political instability can be exploited by ideologues; how sexual violence can be deployed as a means of coercive control"

"Henshall grapples convincingly with the character’s complexities, capturing Melville’s pride and righteous anger, his fierce loyalty, and the desolation he feels when he fails to protect his queen."

Dave Fargnoli, The Stage
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The Guardian

"Douglas Henshall’s courtier defends a Queen in quick-fire debate"

"Rona Munro’s engaging debate drama has some thrilling exchanges as three characters argue the case for and against Mary Queen of Scots"

"Cleanly directed by Roxana Silbert, this is a debate play with little action. It feels static at the start but builds intrigue and has a thrilling series of quick-fire exchanges although the pace does not sustain itself."

"Morison gives an especially gripping performance but Agnes’s switch of position turns on a single factual detail and her sympathy towards Mary sounds too suddenly removed from the fierce ideological arguments she made previously. Sir James’s resignation, meanwhile, seems more a function of the plot than the end to a penetrating character study. But this is still an engaging production and an arresting way to stage the downfall of a contested figure in Stuart history."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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"Scottish diplomat James Melville is the focus of this understated installment of Rona Munro’s epic James Plays"

"A chamber piece about political power and the deals men do in back rooms, it’s effectively a three-hander that comes in at under 90 minutes, and only really consists of two scenes, a far cry from the teeming casts and epic adventures of the other plays."

"Two things Munro’s writing, Henshall’s lead performance and Silbert’s production nail. The first is its brilliant depiction of political persuasion... The other thing the play uncomfortably nails is its depiction of men deciding the fate of women"

"‘Mary’ is a fascinating continuation of ‘The James Plays’. But ultimately it feels like an interesting bonus feature, a hushed, minor-key interlude in a very different cycle of dramas."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Telegraph

"A suffocatingly claustrophobic study of Mary, Queen of Scots"

"Rona Munro's James Plays are magnificent, but her new take on the ill-fated Mary has a too-narrow line of inquiry and fails to excite"

"It may well be that, when watched as part of the cycle, Mary, a chamber piece for three principal actors, sharpens the saga to a satisfying point. It usefully accentuates parallels with women today, especially post MeToo, in its discussion of the queen’s sexual vulnerability and its argument over the degree to which she was coerced, or in control, at crucial moments. Viewed on its own, though, while showcasing Munro’s writerly flair, and presented with imposing precision and wood-panelled splendour by Roxana Silbert, it feels too suffocatingly claustrophobic in its narrow line of inquiry."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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i News

"What is going on at Hampstead? Urgent questions need to be asked – and soon – about the selection of work presented at this new writing theatre. The last production, director Richard Eyre’s debut play The Snail House, was a big disappointment, but Mary takes the problem to an entirely new level."

"... anyone not au fait with the names and minutiae of the reign of Mary Queen of Scots will be instantly befuddled. They will be no less confused by the end of this punishing and enervating 90 minutes, which centres almost exclusively upon characters we don’t see and events we don’t witness. This is an egregious error of judgement on Hampstead’s part; several audience members around me swiftly did the sensible thing and went to sleep."

Fiona Mountford, i News
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Daily Express

"A 'lack of drama' and a 'swamp of tedium'"

"Scottish playwright Rona Munro won several awards for her trilogy of historical dramas, The James Plays, in 2014. Her latest play returns to Scotland's history in a chamber piece about Mary, Queen of Scots. But I doubt it will win any awards."

"Director Roxana Silbert can do little with the play’s inherent lack of drama in spite of spirited performances by the cast, although there is a flurry of activity towards the end that briefly awakens the senses."

Neil Norman, Daily Express
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📷 Main photo: Mary at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Manuel Harlan

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