Glory on Earth at the Lyceum Theatre is a clever and at times light hearted re-examination by writer Linda McLean and director David Greig about the inevitable conflict and clash of immovable ideologies of two of the major figures attempting to shape the Scottish (and to a wider degree European) religious and political landscape of their times – Mary Queen of Scots and firebrand Protestant reformer John Knox – both of whom had returned to Scotland after many years away.
Both key figures –John Knox (Jamie Sives) and Queen Mary (Rona Morison) are always set up to be in eternal opposition – two sides of the same coin never destined to see one another clearly or even meet slightly on the rim edge of that coin…both thinking each had the right to “Glory on Earth”…one as the guardian of their faith given power to defend that faith by God, Jesus and the words of his Bible, and the other an anointed Queen chosen by God and her faith to rule on this earth. From the beginning, the politically poorly educated and even poorer politically supported young Queen never in the long run stood any chance of survival.
John Knox and the young Queen Mary, (who was only 18 years old when she stepped on Scottish soil at the Port of Leith to re-claim her throne that foggy day) met four times in her early reign. The only records of those meeting are however from the pen of John Knox himself and of course give a very one sided version of events. What Linda McLean has done by looking at the life of the young woman that was Mary Queen of Scots, her upbringing and those around her both in France and Scotland is take a flight of imagination into maybe what was going through Queen Mary’s mind too, and perhaps even up the records a little. Mary Queen of Scots may have been very young when she came back to Scotland, but in that short time had already been married to the Dauphin Francis, become Queen of France, widowed and by default lost her throne. Perhaps this young woman was not quite so naïve as everyone thought.
The decision not to make this a period costume drama and to use a wide variety of music (both period and contemporary) was I think the right one as this allowed us as an audience to connect more directly with the performance and the music. The choice to have our Queen’s Ladies in Waiting – The Marys - Christina Gordon, Christie Gowans, Kirsty Eila McIntyre, Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Shannon Swan and Fiona Wood also play the parts of our principal Scottish nobles (including Queen Mary’s half brother James Stuart – Earl of Moray) works a little less well as you have to sometimes pay close attention as to who is actually speaking on stage.
Rona Morison is a very good Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland and captures well the light heartedness that you would have expected someone brought up in The Royal Court of France with all its wealth, colour, music and dancing to have, as well as the huge re-adjustment to not only the far darker Scottish courts and a different state religion (Catholic mass was outlawed at this time in Scotland), but also a Royal court where the power of a monarch was far more limited than what she was used to in France.
Jamie Sives gives us a believable John Knox, but one who is probably far more moderate than the real one would ever have been. The rhetoric of his pulpit preachings and lectures to his young, and in his mind tainted by Satan, Queen do give us some insight into an inflexible man using the words of his Bible to justify whatever action he takes. It should also be borne in mind that this is a man whose convictions and views were in part heavily forged by living through Queen Mary (Bloody Mary) of England’s tyrannical reign of Protestant oppression.
The ugly face of extreme religious ideology of this time of course has present day reflections and what happened here very much shaped Scotland as a nation for the next 400 years and more. Through a well written script there is still humour and lightness here between Mary and her Ladies in Waiting.
Much of the music in this production is French and one recurring song central to this story is one of my all time favourites- Edith Piaf’s” Hymne à l'amour”.
If you don’t like historical drama, don’t let that put you off going to this one – this is history without the weighty lectures and usual dullness that can come with the subject.
Review by Tom King