Did the critics lose their heads over Mary Stuart?
Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams opened in Robert Icke's production last night
Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage
"It's a striking view and in [Robert] Icke's own translation of Schiller's original, beautifully carried through. The words are tough and sinewy, underlining contemporary references while keeping a sense of poetry."
"Both performances are nuanced but cool and slightly mannered. In [Lia] Williams' hands, Elizabeth is vulnerable and frightened, with flashes of fierce authority; [Juliet] Stevenson's Mary is excitable, her humanity to those around her in sharp contrast to Elizabeth's coolness, but her rage just as intense."
"There's a scene towards the end, where one runs free and the other is trapped, that is so magical, I don't want to give it away. I know I shall remember it always. I shall think about the production too and the way Icke makes it speak so powerfully to our times, while never losing track of those in which it belongs."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
"Having seen, as most people will, a single account, I can acclaim the production, beautifully soundscaped throughout, and both performances while noting that they don't stand shoulder to shoulder with the exemplary turns of Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer at the Donmar in 2005."
"You yearn to see the variations, the differing nuances. The pot-luck element works against audience fulfillment. Perhaps Icke has missed a trick by not having them spin another coin, mid-way in, heightening the jeopardy."
"Stevenson captures the sorrow of Mary's plight (her self-righteousness and self-pity too) without entirely persuading you she has been in captivity 19 years."
"I'm a bit 50-50 about it all, then. Should you go? Toss a coin. Heads says yes."
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard
"Rather than being a gimmick, director Robert Icke's innovation emphasises that the characters really are two sides of one coin. Each is trapped by public expectations and the narrowness of her role. "
"On a simple wooden set, in modern dress, and with an insistent ambient soundtrack (plus some original music by Laura Marling) there's an urgent sense of power as a form of confinement."
"Stevenson's Elizabeth appears worn down by the burdens of monarchy, her grandeur always tinged with angst."
"As Mary, Williams is poised and cool yet has a sharp bite and a playfulness that can seem wildly provocative."
Sam Marlowe, The Times
"In Icke's production, Stevenson and Williams are modern leaders, operating in a male-dominated world in which misogyny is rife. There are glimpses of Hillary Clinton, Theresa May and even Margaret Thatcher in their manoeuvrings; sometimes they tactically deploy their femininity, but it's a weapon also repeatedly used against them."
"Icke's verse is sumptuous and muscular, and the issues under discussion — relations with Europe and Scotland, terrorism and religious fanaticism, policy steered by populism — are bracingly relevant. "
"It's fascinating theatre — fiercely pertinent, exhilaratingly potent."
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out
"I like the fact that my viewing really was determined by the coin toss at the start, a gorgeous piece of stagecraft in which Williams calls 'heads' on the spin of a coin, with the winner getting to play Elizabeth."
"Icke has crafted a rich, multilayered, and deeply human political thriller. But let's not get too distracted by him – Mary Stuart was conceived as a vehicle for two of our best actresses and Williams and Stevenson deliver as two lonely stars, drowning in each other's gravity."
Mary Stuart runs at the Almeida until 21 January 2017.