Edinburgh Fringe 2021
This is a bilingual production which adapts the work of Schiller into a rehearsal room but manages to spice this with the structure of a new rehearsal process. We begin with one actress of some renown awaiting both the director and the other actress, employed to play opposite her, patiently in that rehearsal room. Once the second actress arrives, the issues emerge – a seasoned professional having to deal with an over enthusiastic newcomer, a reserved French woman versus the brash American and the fact that the referee, the Director is missing. It means that they have to try and work it out. By doing so the rivalry between Mary and Elizabeth sparkles into life. Schiller’s play sees Elizabeth condemn Mary after a meeting between them which never happened. In an attempt to place distance between her and the decision to kill her cousin, she employs men who have campaigned to give that very order. But there are no men here and the blame lands squarely on the lonely shoulders of the one with her throne. We see both actresses being inhabited by their characters until the finale arrives and we are left with the unnerving impression that reality has just been blurred by the script.
I attacked this with my first year university French (circa 1984) and was never lost. It held me from the beginning till the end as the intensity of each actress is inspirational. Their easy going end is matched by the awkwardness of their beginning. It is clear from that beginning that the structure of this adaptation has great merit, though I was a little unconvinced by the French actress buying into the idea to allow her American counterpart an opportunity to perform. The stuttering awkwardness of the opening scene where the American actress tries her French accent, having learned things phonetically was, however, a perfect set up for the transformation.
The cultural clash between them is well made and nuanced between them as camera angles guide us to the looks, the sighs and the overwhelming indulgence one gives the other to try and find the way forward as the director is unable to grace them with his presence.
it is his presence that is not missed – nor of the rest of the men. stripping the male dominance of the time from the storyline has freed the concentration we have on these two Queens fighting over one island. Perhaps as the macho culture in which they found themselves the anachronisms of the entire performance has lifted what matters out of the quagmire and into the light. The fact was that even without male influence they both found it difficult to get past that rivalry – because they had to return to that dominance.
As it is a bilingual performance there can be times you wander from the subtleties unless you have both languages, but I had enough to make sense. The performances are a massive aid.
Technically there was plenty to admire and by the end if the show was designed to make me think, I was thinking.