SEARCH:  
Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 30th July 2005

Mary Stuart / The Gruffalo


London has become so hard to navigate in the wake of the terrorist attacks, I'm loathe to recommend anything at the moment. I left my house in Shepherd's Bush at 5.45pm last week and didn't get to the Donmar Warehouse until 7.20pm, by which time Mary Stuart had been playing for 20 minutes. (It's normally a 30-minute journey.) My wife and I had to sit in the bar, watching the play on close circuit television, for a further 20 minutes before being forced to stand at the back of the Upper Circle for the remainder of the first half. It was a truly miserable start to the evening.

Incredibly, though, it was worth the aggravation. Schiller's play about the battle between Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, is a riveting piece of political theatre, a penetrating examination of the toll taken by high office on the individual office-holder. In spite of its title, the real subject of the play isn't Mary but Elizabeth and the question it poses is this: How far should our political leaders be allowed to go in sacrificing principles of justice to the national interest? On the face of it, Schiller, who was a 19th Century German liberal, seems to be on the side of justice, but he's intelligent enough to realise that a rigid adherence to the law, particularly international law, is often impractical. The issue then becomes: Given that our political leaders shouldn't be held to ordinary moral standards, how are we to distinguish between integrity and corruption? Is there a yardstick by which they should be judged other than the national interest? Or, to put it another way, was Elizabeth a hero or a villain?

As with Don Carlos, Schiller's primary interest is in the sacrifices an individual must make to succeed in affairs of state--the part of their humanity they must snuff out--and the fact that the two political leaders in Mary Stuart are both women brings this issue into sharp relief. There's a poignant scene in the first half in which Elizabeth expresses her irritation at having to marry for political reasons. If she had her way, she tells her confessor, she'd remain a virgin all her life and concentrate exclusively on running the country. Mary, too, has made her private life subordinate to what she sees as her higher calling, having paid a man to murder her second husband and then married his murderer, all in the name of political advancement.

If all this sounds rather high-minded, don't be put off. There are plenty of low pleasures to be had here, principally the spectacle of two powerful queens engaged in a battle to the death. As played by Harriet Walter and Janet McTeer, they indulge in a high-octane bitchfight that reminded me of Sigourney Weaver's hand-to-hand combat with the alien queen in Aliens. The most powerful scene in the play occurs when the two of them actually meet on the hunting field and almost end up scratching each other's eyes out (Elizabeth has to be physically restrained by her courtiers who effectively say, "She's not worth it.") Mary Stuart isn't quite as good as last year's production of Don Carlos--easily the best play of the year--but it's worth braving a few terrorist bombs for. It'll almost certainly transfer to the West End, but I doubt these two leading ladies will go with it, so catch it now if you can.

The Gruffalo, by contrast, isn't worth bothering with even if you happen to live next door to the Criterion. Based on the charming children's book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler about a plucky little mouse, it's an insipid, uninspired piece that barely lasts 45 minutes. I took my two-year-old daughter, thinking this would be a perfect way to introduce her to the theatre, but she immediately homed in on the production's biggest flaw, namely, the very un-mouse-like woman playing the central character. "Where's the mouse?" she asked, as Alice Parsloe held her arms out in front of her and bit her bottom lip. "There she is," I said, pointing at the performer. My daughter looked intently at the stage, then turned back to me with a puzzled expression: "Where's the mouse?"

Part of the problem is that the costumes are so minimal. Parsloe has ears and a tail, but that's about it, and when the Gruffalo finally appears, he looks like he's got one of those mops on his head with strips of J-cloth-like material, rather than thin rope. I'm intending to put on my own version using my daughter's finger puppets and, however feeble it is, at least the production values should be considerably higher.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share





Twitter RT @afneil: Well I’ve never seen a penny of this. And until I do I’ll just keep holding of the feet of Remainers and Leavers to the fire. h…  (8 minutes ago)

BEST OF THE WEB

The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski - the-american-interest.com
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony - jerusalemletters.com
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller - quillette.com
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand - newyorker.com
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge - economist.com
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell - city-journal.org
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander - prospectmagazine.co.uk
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell - quillette.com
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff - newsweek.com
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings - dominiccummings.wordpress.com
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew - politico.com
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus - claremont.org
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman - theguardian.com
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer - conservativehome.com
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan - nationalreview.com
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs - newstatesman.com
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker - edge.org
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood - theatlantic.com
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray - quadrant.org.au
Beware the soft Stalinists of the campus by David Aaronovitch - thetimes.co.uk
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter - conservativeteachers.com
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win - youtu.be
Corbyn's first seven days - theguardian.com
Corbin's cabinet chaos by Darren McCaffrey - news.sky.com
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons - gq-magazine.co.uk
Inside Westminster's free school - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn's politics are a fantasy – just like Alice in Wonderland by Tony Blair - theguardian.com
Robert Conquest obit - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that - news.stv.tv
In defence of free schools by Toby Young - standpointmag.co.uk
 

BLOGROLL

Andrew Lilico
Andrew Neil
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Normblog
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Slate
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone
 

COLUMNISTS

AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
 
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.com


  • IMdb Page on the film