Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off

Lyceum and Dundee Rep co-production of Liz Lochhead's classic 1987 play

Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off

For director Tony Cownie and the cast of the Lyceum and Dundee Rep Ensemble’s new co-production of Liz Lochhead’s 1987 Scots classic, the Edinburgh Festival is over. Already they’ve had Lochhead in to give advice on pronunciations and, in the middle of August, are kicking rehearsals into high gear. ‘It’s just the first show of the new season for me,’ laughs Cownie. ‘It just means I have to get everything I want to see on the Fringe out of the way early.’

Examining the divisive relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and her cousin Elizabeth I, the play is about more than just a dysfunctional but powerful family. ‘First and foremost, it’s a brilliant story,’ says Cownie, ‘but there are a lot of lessons that can be taken from it about the problems Scotland faces. Sectarianism seems to continually come up and be buried under the sand without ever really being dealt with. This play shows how that’s been a divisive issue for centuries.’

Noting that Mary Queen of Scots is a familiar historical character whose story is rarely retold in detail (Friedrich Schiller’s oft-restaged Mary Stuart being the obvious exception), Cownie has never seen Lochhead’s play before – including the touring 2009 National Theatre of Scotland version – and that’s how he likes to approach any repertory piece he’s directing. He’s a long-time Lochhead collaborator, though, having most recently worked on Educating Agnes, her adaptation of Moliere’s L’Ecole des Femmes, for the Lyceum earlier this year. ‘She’s not afraid to talk about Scotland,’ he says. ‘I love the way she remind us of our culture so descriptively, she’s very proud of it and it comes across in her characters.’

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, Fri 16 Sep–Sat 15 Oct

Mary, Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off

  • 4 stars

Dundee Rep Ensemble and Royal Lyceum Theatre present their first co-production as part of a two-year partnership. Liz Lochhead's celebrated play tells the familiar story of the life of Mary Stuart through the Makar's typically witty and robust language.


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