When you see a show, watch a film, or read a book that claims to be a reworking of a well-known story, fictional or otherwise, the fun is two-fold; enjoying it as it is, and working out where it all lines up. In Sarah MacGillivray and Phil Bartlett’s Marie, that subject of such a tale is Mary Queen of Scots. Last year’s film starring Saoirse Ronan and Margot Robbie has certainly whet an appetite for a stage adaptation, though you might be surprised to see a cocky pint-pulling Queen Liz, and a naïve young actress.
If you’re stretched to think how this connects to one of the most famous figures in Scottish history, it’s more than likely that you still will be by the end of this performance. Instead, what transpires is an unexpected story of trying to make it in the ruthless acting industry in London. Our eponymous Scot becomes increasingly fascinated with a certain decapitated queen, and what starts off as finding-your-feet, fish-out-of-water narrative becomes something altogether unusual. At times engrossing, bordering on brilliant (albeit a little hammy), the strange tonal shifts serve to subvert the audience’s expectations and plays to an empathetic audience of theatre-makers. Unfortunately, however, it concludes with an ending that is rather too bold for its own good, taking a few too many stairs at a time in order to be shocking.
MacGillivray performs as Liz, Marie, and all the characters in between, and it’s her ability to switch between them convincingly that is the crux of the show. There is a clear distinction between the two protagonists, who each get their turn to tell their side of the story, and seeing the conflict brewing inside the same person is fascinating to witness. It also allows MacGillvray to flex her impressive characterisation skills, particularly when it comes to the rather gruff accent of Liz in comparison to the sweet, almost squeaking tones of Marie. The transitions between characters are at times underplayed, though they are at least never distracting or cumbersome, as many a solo show can be when they feature multiple characters.
As an hour-long show of surprisingly dark fun, there’s some enjoyment to be had in Marie. Even so, it’s nothing to lose your head over.