Theatre editor Steve Cramer talks to Siobhan Redmond about her Queen Elizabeth in the NTS’ new version of Schiller’s Mary Stuart.
Steve Cramer I suppose one of the aspects of this new David Harrower version of the text that we might expect is a certain politicality.
Siobhan Redmond It’s not the politics but the politicking that goes on that you really notice. All these men are desperate to shove these women one way or another to get their own bit of the pie, rather than for any idea or bigger cause. I can’t imagine it’s any different in Westminster now, because human nature doesn’t change. In the rehearsal room we’ve all been talking about who’s Tony Blair, George Bush ?" there’s even one character who’s been compared to Robin Cook.
SC Does it tell us much about Scottish identity?
SR I suppose historically, it tells us that we Scots sometimes have too much interest in biting our neighbours. We sometimes have more interest in spiting each other than maintaining the status quo. Mary’s nobles are like this; they’re constantly fighting each other, which was destructive for her.
SC But there’s more to it as an entertainment than the politics . . .
SR I was struck by how much of a thriller it is. We know what happens to Mary; we all know that the end is not going to be a happy one for her. But it’s fascinating the way the action works. There are double agents in the piece, and there is this horrible sense of accumulation where nothing is set in stone at the beginning. Things said and done which don’t seem important at the time lead to this logic, where her end has to happen to her. And it’s all done with this mesmerising rhythm.
SC The director, Vicky Featherstone, I understand, wants the piece, in part, to be a character study.
SR I think Vicky is really on to something here. Mary became queen when she was five days old. There was never a day in her life when she wasn’t conscious of being queen. That wasn’t Elizabeth’s experience. It’s the difference between someone who was very beautiful, who people go toward in a welcoming way all their lives, and someone who’s had to fight for everything. What that does to your own confidence has an effect on the amount of power you’re given. Mary was raised to be a queen and to be a consort, whereas, as Liz Lochhead, who of course wrote the wonderful Mary Queen of Scots got Her Head Chopped Off, said to me, Mary knew what it was like to be a queen, while Elizabeth wanted to know what it was like to be a queen and a king.
SC What do you think it tells us about these women, historically? Were they really alike in some ways?
SR Where they’re alike they’re very alike, but where they’re different it’s really different planets. In real life, of course, Elizabeth never met Mary, I suspect because she was too clever to allow a kind of personal link to get in the way of what she had to do. Mary was actually a very clever woman, but our desire to make her a kind of romantic hero tends to get in the way of that. Her problem wasn’t that she lacked intelligence, she just wasn’t a good politician.
SC Isn’t it intimidating to play a role like Elizabeth?
SR Yes it is. But I have to trust in Schiller. Besides, you should see my costume, it’s fantastic! So if I don’t rehearse hard I won’t be able to speak, and the worst thing about that is not being able to wear that fabulous dress!
Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 29 Sep-Sat 14 Oct, then touring.