by Liz Lochhead

at the Jericho Arts Centre

February 16 - Mar 11, 2017

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Liz Lochhead's Mary Queen of Scots got her Head Chopped Off is a Scottish classic, studied at the Grade 12 level in Scottish schools. Yet it is no stately text but a raw, rough telling of a tale so often told from the English side, where the focus is on Elizabeth the First and Mary gets short shrift, appearing usually as a mere caricature. But here the emphasis is on Mary, past Queen Consort of France, Queen of Scotland since she was 6 days old, and on how she tries to control a land riven with sectarianism, with plots and counterplots, while continuing to be a passionate and beautiful woman of flesh and blood. In what has been called her "scavenging eclecticism of language", Lochhead sets out a tale of a queen who has failed to learn what Elizabeth did, that a queen must rule with her head not her heart. But, as one critic puts it, " Lochhead turns her attention to this period of history with a distinctive pen and style that refuses to fall into anti-English sentiment nor introspective mush" (Donald Stewart, 2013).

The familiar tale of the enmity between Elizabeth 1st of England and Mary Queen of Scots is retold with ferocious iconoclasm and boundless wit by Scotland's most popular and contemporary playwright.

"Once upon a time there were two queens on the wan green island, and the wan green island was split into two kingdoms. But no equal kingdoms..."

So La Corbie, the ringmaster, the trickster prophetess plunges us into the "whispers, rumours, souchs and chatters" that are at the heart of the story of two of history's most intriguing women, Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth Ist. The stage is set for a deadly game where intrigue, passion, marriage, and murder all spin to La Corbie's telling. We meet the two queens of course, but also Lord Darney, the young suitor sent by Elizabeth to marry Mary, her secretary (and lover?) David Rizzio, as well as her third husband Bothwell, and, snaking between the plottings and secrets, the lean, gaunt figure of John Knox, "as black as night".

L-R: Owen A.Kenny as Rizzio, Erin Morgan as Mary Queen of Scots
Photo: Nancy Caldwell
1542 Mary born near Edinburgh.
1543 Mary is crowned Queen of Scotland, her mother Mary of Guise acting as Regent.
1548 Mary goes to France.
1558 Mary (16) and Francois(14) heir to the French throne married. Elizabeth crowned Queen of England.
1559. Francois accedes the French throne and Mary becomes Queen of France.
1560 Francois dies.
1561 Mary arrives back in Scotland.
1565 Mary meets and later marries Lord Darnley.
1566 David Rizzio is killed. Mary's baby, James, is born.
1567 Darnley is killed. Bothwell obtains a divorce. He and Mary wed. Six weeks later Mary abdicates in favour of her son.
1568 Mary flees to England and is imprisoned.
1587 Mary executed by decree of Elizabeth.