The acting is impeccable, the direction by Mark Leipacher sure, the design simple but effective, with clever lighting and an interesting use (and thankfully not overuse) of projection to add information or bloodily portray a suicide.
With the current focus on the future of Scotland, concerns about international terrorism and religious extremism, this piece is also highly topical. Queen Elizabeth is anguishing over what to do about Mary, proclaimed Queen of Scotland and a perceived threat to Elizabeth's continued reign. Insecure in her position as Monarch, Elizabeth is persuaded by her duplicitous courtiers that the only way to ensure her tenure on the throne is to sign Mary's death warrant.
First though, she is inveigled into meeting Mary during a hunting trip - a meeting of which history has no record, but how could any playwright not want to explore the "what ifs" of such an imagined encounter?
Derval Mellett and Kate Sawyer totally step up to the plate with blistering performances, following ably in the footsteps of Janet McTeer and Harriet Walter in the roles of Mary and Elizabeth. Their brief, fate-sealing meeting in the forest is totally believable and emotionally electrifying. But they also excel in the quieter moments of contemplation, of doubt, of anguish. This is an ensemble company though, and kudos must also go to the rest of the cast for not being overshadowed by the two Queens.
The one very minor mis-step is the costuming. The farthingales worn by Mary and her maid-servant Hannah wobble around distractingly, add nothing and just look a bit silly. Similarly, the courtiers wear their coats as cloaks thrown over one shoulder, echoing the Elizabethan/modern mash-up of the production, but again this doesn't entirely work and a couple of the cast seem to struggle with them. The use of costume in the beheading scene though is simply breath-taking and beautifully realised.
It's always great to witness a young company on the up and Faction were worthy winners of the Peter Brook/Equity Ensemble Award. The company's brilliant exploration of the classics with a modern twist is a fabulous addition to the London theatre scene.
- Carole Gordon