Vicky Featherstone - Director
The following interview provides a snapshot of some of Vicky Featherstone’s ideas about Mary Stuart, the way she’s approached the play as director and her thoughts on the rehearsal process.
Going right back to the beginning, why did you chose this specific play?
We were looking for a classic to have as part of the season; I read it and I was just really excited. Most of my experience has been in new writing and I’ve always thought that classics rather kind of chug along often and they can be quite slow in terms of the story and how they engage with a contemporary audience. One of the things I always find quite elitist about classics is that you need to have prior knowledge of the piece or of the world that it’s in and I really hate that. I think an audience should feel able to come to the theatre and have a visceral experience, a response to what’s happening on stage or around them.
When I read Mary Stuart it felt incredibly urgent, the story telling is really on the front foot, you’re sort of thrown into this world. All of the characters have an amazing journey, every single scene twists the plot in some way, it felt really like a contemporary thriller to me, so I was excited by the fact that this great play felt so contemporary.
What kind of new challenges do you think you’ve faced that you haven’t faced before?
In the last 10 years I haven’t done a classic play, so for me the challenge was to be able to put on a brilliant classic play, but make it feel as vibrant as a new piece.
The other challenge for me in terms of the story and the characters was about us being able to understand the impasse of the situation for Elizabeth so that she wasn’t just the baddie straight away, but actually she was genuinely stuck in a problem that she didn’t know how to solve. Mary is her royal cousin, she’s related to her, she does feel merciful, she doesn’t want to draw blood. However, Mary has conspired against her and I was really interested to find out what that balance is. There’s a part in the play when she says 'this is the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced and I don’t know what to do about it'.
At the end of the play after Mary dies, rather than it becoming the tragedy of how does Elizabeth carry on from this point - it’s more like, even though it’s not a good thing, she’s gone and now I can get on with my reign. You see a whole new thing beginning. That’s the kind of energy I want at the end of the play. It’s like a new chapter starts with Mary’s death rather than Mary dies and it’s over. I think the structure of the play does that as well because Mary’s death isn’t the last thing, there’s a whole other four or five scenes after it with Elizabeth, so I know that’s what Schiller was trying to do.
There's another thing that’s really interesting for me which has made it feel quite contemporary. I’m not pushing this, but it's the fundamentalism in the play. Mortimer, who tries to save Mary, goes out to France and gets seduced by the Cardinal of all these Scottish exiles and becomes Catholic. He’s really full of religious fervour and zealotry and that has a lot of parallels with people we understand today - a kind of suicide bomber. It’s extraordinary in today’s climate doing this play and realising that’s what Mortimer’s become, an old fashioned suicide bomber.
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