‘I want Scotland to be at the heart of Europe’, the young Mary Queen of Scots tells her courtiers in David Greig’s fine production of Linda Mclean ‘s play, ‘Glory on Earth’, at the Lyceum Theatre. Sharing the stage for most of the action is volatile preacher, John Knox , who viewed Mary as a danger to Scotland and, as a woman, unfit not just to govern but devoid of any substantial thoughts worthy of consideration.
It’s a classic binary, collision between the youth, joyfulness and frivolity of the young , Catholic Mary and the dour, pulpit thumping fundamentalism of the formidable, middle-aged Knox. He is inward looking , intolerant, stubborn and embraces an austere lifestyle; the young Queen sees a world beyond the Palace and Scotland’s shores and relishes international collaboration. Sound familiar? I am not sure whether Linda McLean intended this as a BREXIT metaphor but it is strikingly appropriate today since Arlene and the Zealots , representing a party, founded by a fundamentalist, tub-thumping disciple of Knox, are now principal players .
Greig’s production meets head-on the challenges of a rather wordy play with little movement and only two scenes – Holyrood Palace and the pulpit in St Giles’ Cathedral ; he succeeds admirably in keeping the audience totally engaged for its duration. The incidental music of Cork man , John Mc Carthy , and dramatic lighting effects on the minimalist scenery keep the pace and narrative moving energetically, helped by the insouciance of a young cast. Linda Mc Lean has written a play for a modern Scotland ; it nuances Indyfef II, gender politics, the inchoate power of the young, sectarianism and Brexit. Mary and Knox represent much more than the gruesome caricatures that we met in school history.
And all the better for it.