The Byre Studio, 20 April 2011
Rating: * * *
Henry VIII and his Tudor court comprise a part of history which is repeatedly rewritten. One might call it a clichéd period, but if so then it is for good reason: conspiracy, betrayal, greed, lust and sex never fail to make a good story. The main challenge for new artists wanting to use these historical figures is to give something new; and a potentially good attempt to give this something new could be witnessed at On the Rocks.
Ladykiller, written by St Andrews student Alex Mullarky, received its debut last week, directed by Beth Robertson. Ladykiller is a swift, 45 minute whirl through Henry’s court at the time of Anne Boleyn’s queenship. The play begins with her producing a stillborn son and ends with her execution; but while death pervades the edges of the court, within there is a bubbling lava of life, even if this life is often a constant masquerade hiding all kinds of deceit. Indeed the actual masquerade in the play, along with well-timed bouts of dancing provided just some of the thoughtful symbolism.
The acting of the script, however, left something to be desired. It was by no means bad, but it was rough around the edges. On occasion it felt overacted, when it may have been more effective to take a subtle approach; on occasion there was a stiltedness and lack of chemistry. Sarah Burnford and Harriet Scopes, as Anne and Mary respectively, were wonderfully cold and regal in their demeanour; by contrast Ewan Bruce and Charlie Needham, as Henry and Charles, came across less striking, not quite filling the boots of the powerful men they were supposed portray.
Perhaps more maturity was wanting, overall. This was not exactly anybody’s fault; indeed a great deal of intelligent and accomplished talent went into the production. The problem I found was that the play deals with themes and events so dark and sinister, with such profound cruelty, that it is difficult for young actors with relatively little life experience to do it full justice; there was something too chaste and naïve about the performance.
On the other hand, the production was simply but beautifully staged. A mirror forming the surface of the table in the banquet hall was a clever touch, but most striking was the choice of costumes: men were dressed in modern suits, while the women were in Tudor dresses. This, I felt, was an ideal choice to add that ‘something different’ to the play; it shrewdly brought out the contemporary edge. The themes of betrayal and abuse of power are still fully relevant today, and costume became significant in drawing out these parallels and giving them a spotlight. Mullarky’s decision to have Anne and Mary as good friends, against historical accuracy, created an intriguing alliance to watch: two women uniting in the face of male betrayal has to be one of the most timeless issues.
On balance, this was a good first production of Mullarky’s play. I feel there is still potential in the script and in the subject matter for interpretation to go even deeper and produce something more special; but for now, Mullarky’s name is one to look out for, as I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of her plays in the future.
Photo by Renata Grasso