“Don’t take it to extremes, John”.
Glory on Earth is “a meditative look” at a very unsettled and volatile time in Scottish and Unionist history, not least due to the Reformation. Consisting of only two characters – John Knox and Mary Queen of Scots, along with a six strong cast of her ladies-in-waiting/’Marys’ – the play centres around the historically hostile relationship between the two, based on Knox’s account in his work, “The History of the Reformation of Religion in Scotland“.
Things are a little disjointed in the second preview. Verbal cues are missed, either with the actors cutting across each other or missing the odd cue to respond. While occasional, its enough to disrupt the rhythm to the already rich and heightened dialogue. There is also an attempted air of verfremdungseffekt at play, too; each character moves around the space as though puppets of someone else’s story and its emotions. The play’s aim may be that of the aforementioned “meditative look”, but in practice, the performances become woefully understated, making the rare outburst of emotion seem erratic and inauthentic.
Attention is instead focussed on the design and text. Minimalist in style, arches are lowered in and out of scene to signify the court and external settings, and the actors wheel Mary’s throne and John’s pew around with deliberate and foreboding menace. The ladies’ costuming – an abstract modernisation with nods to the 16th century – has since had a divisive response from audience members. On a personal level, the bigger question is that of incorporating heels (more specifically ankle boots) into the show. The click of a heel on a stage is a pleasant sound on the ear, however, my question focusses on the why. Heels hold a special significance in modern society than it did in the 16th century. Then, it was to add height to the (predominately short) noble men; now, they are a distinctly feminine symbol, though not always one of positivity.
Historically, this is not an inaccurate play. It does, however, gloss over the fundamental significance of this particular time and, in turn, undermine it almost to a point of offence. (Take one scene revolving around continuous rejections of marriage proposals, before skipping ahead to her imprisonment, abdication, and beheading, conveniently ignoring three marriages and the birth of her son). John Knox was a ruthless individual, to Mary and to Scotland. Mary’s court and, ultimately, life was riddled with tragedy, sabotage and betrayal. Instead, Knox is portrayed as nothing more than a humble servant carrying out God’s work, and not organising treasonous activities and burning people at the stake. Or Mary, ascending the throne at six days old and raised upon the royal courts of France, depicted as ignorant, overwhelmed, and incapable of rule.
Mary’s story has had many iterations over history. Like many historical plays, then, there must be a reason to hear it once more. Instead, one leaves the evening wondering about the show’s purpose. It presented no new insight: Knox is still a bad man, and Mary stills dies at the end. To portray Knox as this humble servant of the Lord and driven by His purpose is, in my opinion, the play’s undoing. While undoubtedly true, compounding it with a muted performance of the man and the erratic performance of Mary instead turns the play into a borderline sexist trope: the man with all the power, and the crazy queen who can’t rule her own country. Perhaps as the run continues and the performers’ intensity increases, this may be avoided altogether – Mary, at the very least, deserves that.
‘Glory on Earth‘, Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Edinburgh: where an extinct volcano system lives in the country’s capital.
Possibly named as King Arthur’s sit-upon. Better known for miniature coffins, a drunken 6th year (final school year) tradition where you climb to the top to watch the sunrise, killer swans, and somewhere to watch any firework display because sod the money-grabbing Hogmanay organisers.
We do things a little differently over here.
About a month ago, I created a short called ‘King’:
Now in his thirties, Man conjures up three younger versions of himself – Mini, Midi and Maxi – to explore the worst decision he ever made.
For the next three nights, Girls Like That will be performed at the Traverse Theatre in collaboration with the Lyceum Youth Theatre company, with readings of new work written by past and present Traverse Young Writers performed alongside the main event. The piece itself will be performed by an all teenage female cast, while the readings were created for and will be performed by an all teenage male cast.
As well as another writer, Clare Daly and her piece ‘Disappointments’, I help kick off the three nights with my piece, ‘King’, in about three hours time!
The basis for ‘King’ began as a true story about a friend of mine and a very tumultuous period of time in his life i.e. his teens. With his permission, I used the backbone of this hellish episode, honed in on one particular aspect of it, and essentially fictionalised it as far away from his own reality as I possibly could. The aspect in question? Mental health.
While the conversation around mental health and well-being has greatly improved, there is still a long way to go to stop children carrying trauma with them into adulthood. The sooner it is dealt with, the brighter their future. My piece, however, is about what happens when you don’t and, worst of all, keep quiet about it. When you blame yourself for your actions, and not of those who should have known better. When those who should have known better didn’t, and placed that blame at your feet.
Mental health has vastly improved, even within the last decade. More and more, we are getting to a point where elements of our identity being different to the ‘norm’ is moving out of living memory, almost like dial-up internet and flip-phones. And that is a good thing. But the same immediacy cannot always have the same impact for those who didn’t have that childhood, or that level of access to help. All this progress benefits us all, but even someone in their mid-twenties (my age) is still just outside that change in the tide – is it any wonder, then, that there are people late in life coming to terms with things they have suppressed for fifty or eighty years?
Obviously the above is a very simplistic view on an incredibly complex issue, but I hope that gives a quick insight into where this piece came from. I’m very excited for tonight, and what the casts have in store for us. Break a leg!
Having never done so, I think this year I’m going to start posting the why behind any of the work that I do, a) because I want to be, but b) because I think it may massively help my process. I’ll update this with a little more substance after the show – typed this up with no edit!
Just my great-grandad (right), his brother and sister-in law, and their pork butchers in the early 1900s. I mean why else would you leave Germany for Edinburgh?
And yes, I’m afraid that nose is still alive and well throughout the rest of us. Bastard.