So if someone had never heard of this play, what is it?
It’s Schiller’s masterpiece, originally written in 1800, and deals with the court intrigue and politics surrounding Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, who many believed was the rightful heir to the throne. The centerpiece of the drama is an imagined meeting between the two queens - historically it never happened - and that’s really like a boxing match, a title fight between two heavyweight contenders that has major repercussions. It’s a face-paced, high stakes, political thriller.
Why do this particular play?
Schiller provides the ideal material for The Faction - where Shakespeare writes characters that talk at the speed of thought, Schiller writes impulsive characters that act almost entirely on their passionate emotions. It doesn’t make them any less intelligent - but they throw themselves headfirst into things without consideration. This play is one of the greatest plays of European, if not World Drama, and I’ve been very excited about staging it for many years.
What about the queens: do you like them? Would you go for coffee with them?
I like both queens - I think I understand them, and I think they’re both very different and I can empathize with elements of both of them. One speaks to my head, and the other speaks to my heart. I’d go or coffee with either of them! Can you imagine the conversation? I think it would be extraordinary. I think that Schiller definitely likes Mary best, so perhaps the audience will too, but I think that through our production they will also understand why Elizabeth makes the choices she does.
What sort of reaction have you gotten?
Many have been fascinated by the power of the play and how emotional they feel towards the central characters - whose side they have taken and how they understand their motives and choices they make in the event. Many have also been surprised by how contemporary the play feels - it doesn’t feel like a play that’s over 200 years old. It speaks to our time too. The conflicts are always life-changing and the events change what happens on a global scale - it’s like politics in today’s 24hr media frenzy. I hope that they get embroiled in the plots and machinations, and that are excited and leave feeling they’ve been on a rollercoaster. I hope that they take away an understanding of what these characters went through and can imagine how they would respond if they were in the same position.
You don’t use a lot of sets or costumes: why?
The thing that excites me most about theatre is how immediate it is: the live event. There is nothing so thrilling as an actor, in a space, with a text to say, and an audience to respond to. The more things you put in the way of that transaction (between performer and audience), such as big sets, heavy costumes, theatre curtains, props, then the less immediate it becomes. With all of our shows, the audience is a necessary component - they have to engage their imaginations - and if they invest in that, then they leave feeling that they were more a part of the world then just having it presented to them. The power of the imagination does more than any set, costume or prop could do.
What is your favorite part of the play?
There are so many moments that I continue to enjoy even though we’ve been touring with this show for some time. I think my favourite part of the play is in Elizabeth’s boardroom, which for us is like an executive boardroom. There are a large ensemble, each with their own motives, each contending with a difficult puzzle - it’s a very 3D scene, unlike Mary’s “narrow prison” which precedes it - and seeing the different sly glances bounce around the cast can be very exciting. But, then the meeting between the two queens - the centerpiece - can sometimes make an audience hold its breath and there’s that special type of theatre silence cast over the auditorium - I love moments like that.
Why is it important to do this kind of live theatre?
Other art forms and media, like television and film, have lavish budgets and mass appeal, but there’s nothing like a live performance - its immediacy, and the connection that an audience can have with the real flesh and blood people on stage is much more exciting and fulfilling. As with most classical plays, the themes are universal. Themes of isolation, love, betrayal, wants, needs. Those classical plays that have remained in the repertoire are there because they speak to enduring human emotions. They speak across generations and across cultures. It’s also more of a communal experience - the audience can experience the piece together, and hear each other’s reactions. Being an audience member watching a piece of theatre with a universal theme can leave you changed in a way that I don’t think any other medium or art form can.
Mary Stuart takes the stage at the Katara Drama Theatre Nov 8-10, 8pm-10pm. Tickets are QR80-QR155. For tickets and more information see www.katara.net.
There’s Something About Mary
Check out www.timeoutdoha.com for our interview with the star herself, Derval Mellet, who plays Mary Stuart