Review: Glory On Earth - Light and poetic history play is atmospheric treat

Mary Queen of Scots and her ladies in waiting.

Mary Queen of Scots and her ladies in waiting.

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MARY Queen of Scots got her head chopped off. Everyone knows that, so in her poetic new play, Linda McLean uses that well documented fact as a the jumping off point from which to flashback to ‘the beginning’.

Royal Lyceum, Grindlay Street

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And so, a ghostly Mary recounts her journey from France to the Port of Leith and Edinburgh, where the catholic monarch would endure an ever more fractious relationship with the protestant reformer John Knox.

From the moment Knox appears, coldly staring into the fully lit auditorium, David Greig’s pacy direction is inventive, if familiar.

A chorus of six ladies in waiting, all also called Mary, are used to express the Queen’s inner-thoughts and to inhabit other characters.

It’s a technique recognisable to anyone who saw the Malthouse production of Picnic at Hanging Rock; the Marys chanting in unison and peopling the court of the young Mary of Guise, played with teenage brio by a very watchable Rona Morison.

It’s a technique that is both a ‘godsend’ and ‘the devil’s own work’ as far as the staging is concerned.

Angelic harmonies are gloriously uplifting, but the technique also imbues the production with a misplaced naivety that leaves a feeling it is not quite fully formed.

As leader of the protestant reformation in Scotland, Jamie Sives’ Knox lacks the fire and brimstone one might expect.

All play upon Karen Tennent’s minimalist design which is atmospheric in its monastic paucity, while Michael John McCarthy’s moving score is impressive and captures the heart, never more so than when The Associates’ Party Fears Two is played on a harp to underscore the action.

Run ends 10 June