Tag Archives: Rona Morison



Hampstead Theatre

MARY at the Hampstead Theatre



“Munro gives the actors plenty to chew on, and with actors like Henshall, Morison and Vernel, it’s a pleasure to watch and listen”


Mary is another play in the series of dramas about Scottish history by Rona Munro. They focus on the Stuart dynasty of the kings of Scotland, and begin with James I. These earlier plays, known collectively as The James Plays, were seen both on tour in Scotland, and at the English National Theatre in 2014, to well deserved acclaim. They provide the backstory for Mary, the current play in the series, but all the plays are meant to seen as stand alone dramas as well. This production of Mary, directed by Roxana Silbert, has a strong cast in Douglas Henshall as the Catholic Sir James Melville, Rona Morison as Agnes, a fiercely Knoxian brand of Protestant, and Brian Vernel as a politically naive guard named Thompson. Mary Stuart herself makes a couple of brief, but memorable appearances (a poised debut by newcomer Meg Watson). The austere lines of the set and costume designs (Ashley Martin-Davis), and the vivid lighting (Matt Haskins) are an appropriate contrast to the catastrophic events that lie at the heart of the reimagined events of Rona Munro’s play.

Mary is of course, about Mary, Queen of Scots, that well known, tragic figure of any number of romantic novels and movies about the Scottish queen and her rival, Elizabeth I of England. Munro’s version of Mary’s story doesn’t focus on the rivalry between queens, as Schiller’s does. In Munro’s hands, Mary Stuart’s story is altogether a much grittier, and more violent drama. It’s about the tragedy of a woman caught up in a vicious power struggle between warring factions at the Scottish court. The battle is literally fought on Mary’s body. Interestingly, Munro chooses to tell this story not through Mary’s voice, but through the voices of some minor characters at her court.

Munro’s drama opens the way it means to go on — on a scene of violence. A man lies on stage, bloody from a stab wound. Melville, the Queen’s devoted supporter, is trying to get him and his blood, out of the way before Mary sees him. Because “she’s been frightened enough already.” But Thompson wants the Queen to see what “he” has done to him. Melville calls in a servant, Agnes, to clean him up. It turns out that “he” is James Bothwell, suspected assassin of the Queen’s husband, Henry Darnley. Bothwell is in the middle of a rampage. Over the course of a few months, he will leave no one in Scotland untouched by his rapaciousness for blood and power. One of Bothwell’s most potent weapons is sexual assault. And as Mary proceeds, Melville is forced to confront his complicity in standing by while Bothwell rapes his Queen. He is also forced to make an impossible choice between his loyalty to Mary, and his loyalty to his country. In these tumultuous times, there is no distinction between the “body politic” and the Queen’s actual body. In seizing the Queen, Bothwell has seized power. It doesn’t seem to matter whether people believe Mary was raped or was a willing partner with Bothwell. Everything comes crashing down.

As a play, Mary works its magic with a mix of punchy and oddly modern dialogue, and genuinely heartfelt moments between the well-defined characters. Munro gives the actors plenty to chew on, and with actors like Henshall, Morison and Vernel, it’s a pleasure to watch and listen. The distinctive rhythms of the Scottish dialect heighten the emotions as these three struggle for power. But for all the drama of Melville’s anguished conscience, Mary ends on a cliffhanger. It feels like part of a series, and not a true standalone drama. Mary is really the Sir James Melville story. Maybe Munro will find time to write another play about Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary may feel like a bit of an anomaly in The James Plays saga, but it fills in some essential details. If you’re a fan of the series, then you’ll want to see this play. So don’t miss Mary at the Hampstead, and start looking ahead to the next play in Rona Munro’s exceptional series about Scottish history, told from a Scottish perspective.



Reviewed on 31st October 2022

by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Manuel Harlan



Previously reviewed at this venue:

The Two Character Play | ★★★★ | July 2021
Big Big Sky | ★★★★ | August 2021
Night Mother | ★★★★ | October 2021
The Forest | ★★★ | February 2022
The Fever Syndrome | ★★★ | April 2022
The Breach | ★★★ | May 2022
The Fellowship | ★★★ | June 2022


Click here to read all our latest reviews


Diary of a Teenage Girl – 3*


The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Southwark Playhouse

Opening Night – 7 March 2017


“Impressively staged, but ultimately disappointing”


The Diary of a Teenage Girl is based on the acclaimed graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner. Now the thing with graphic novels is the author not only provides the words but also the pictures to allow the reader to interpret the storyline in their own way, yet providing them with the basic look of the characters and settings.

The concept of a graphic novel is therefore much harder to translate into a stage work than say just a novel on its own. Steer away too much from the artist’s original character led drawings and you risk losing fan base. Stick too closely to them,  and it’s all a little too safe and predictable. It’s a hard thing to get right.

The film of  the work received mainly good reviews, but that genre allowed much more deep exploration of the characters – so whilst sticking to Gloeckner’s original look and feel of 1970s San Francisco, it managed to add an extra dimension making it gritty and real.

The show at the Southwark Playhouse is delivered, as short scenes based around the diary entries of Minnie (Rona Morison). Minnie is only fifteen and in the throws of her sexual awakening, she flirts and ends up in a sexual relationship with Monroe (Jamie Wilkes), her mother’s on-off boyfriend. The play hints that Monroe may have instigated the relationship, but it’s clear Minnie is the one that feels strongest about it.

This could easily be a modern day tale of child abuse and grooming. Delivered as ‘comedy’ it is a little unsettling to watch at times. With  her drug taking mother Charlotte (Rebecca Trehearn), oblivious to what’s happening with her daughter, this could also be interpreted as a tale of neglect.

Whilst the original novel is about the sexual awakening of Minnie, there is a lot more content in it than the play shows. This adaptation chooses to focus wholly on the sexual parts of the story and as such fails to give any real background to a lot of the scenes or give us any real in depth understanding of the characters, other than Minnie.

It is impressively staged in ‘The Little’ – a credit to the set, lighting, sound and video designers involved. The actors deliver their lines well, with Rona Morison and Jamie Wilkes being particularly impressive. But ultimately this show is just ‘OK’, rather than anything remarkable. With the content of the novel, it could have been adapted to be something much more gripping and gritty. A little disappointing.


Photography by Darren Bell


The Diary of a Teenage Girl

is at The Southwark Playhouse until 25th March