Following a critically acclaimed sold-out season at the Almeida Theatre, Mary Stuart is a dynamic political drama about lust, pride and power.
Written in 1800, Robert Icke’s explosive adaptation brings the resonate themes of the production to a 21st-century audience. The fight to death between two killer queens is both riveting and entirely stunning.
I spoke to Rudi Dharmalingam, who plays the role of Mortimer. Despite the play being set on true historical events, the role of Mortimer was invented by the playwright and director Robert Icke. Mortimer converts to Catholicism and believes it is his God-given right to free Mary from prison and kill Elizabeth I.
“The character is the symbol of a growing contingency of Catholic missionaries that were ostracised from Elizabeth’s reign,” he said. “They went to Europe with one goal in mind, to kill Elizabeth I. So he is a young guy in his 20s who has been brought up in a strict protestant regime and has been deprived of Catholicism, art and worldly knowledge.”
At the start of the production, the actresses playing both Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I flip a coin to decide who is playing each role, keeping both the actors and audience on their toes. “It is fascinating because there is no time to prepare,” Rudi explained. “Both actresses have very different energies, the impulses and intentions are still the same, but obviously you’re working with two actresses playing the same role, so you have to be receptive.”
Mortimer was adamant to return to the role because he felt so passionate about the story, company and what they achieved. “We consumed ourselves in a lot of research both times at the Almeida and for our West End run,” he said. “This time around for the rehearsal period I actually went to the Vatican in Rome so I could see those places in the flesh which really helped me.”
This time around, Rudi wanted to create something fresh, new and even stronger than when he previously played the role. “Robert (writer & director) and I work so well together because we share the same drive and commitment to the role and our obsessive need to create theatre that is deeply impactful,” he said. “I wanted to approach it with a clean slate and this time we have been able to go much deeper with a longer rehearsal piece.”
It’s a complex production, and Rudi expressed his challenges faced in the role: “Mortimer has such drive, focus and an unwavering ambition to achieve justice. He will go to extraordinary lengths in order to achieve his goals. This means there is no time to think for Mortimer and I am working on such a high level of energy throughout the play.”
Running on the fact that if Mortimer is found out and his plan is foiled, he will be killed, Rudi maintains this idea in his mind throughout to keep his momentum. “My character is working on such a huge platform of panic because the stakes are incredibly high,” he explained. “I’ve been finding going to the gym a lot and doing lots of exercise and strenuous activities before every scene really helps me psychologically, as you’re only thinking of one thing.”
Brexit is a huge topic of conversation in theatre, and this production’s political relevance still resonates today. Rudi explained: “History tells us that isolation doesn’t necessarily work out to the best and we are always stronger as a union and collaboration, so I think there are strong parallels with what is going on in Brexit right now.”
With remarkable reviews, Rudi expressed his excitement to be taking the production on tour. “I think the audience should expect a really fascinating insight into a really fascinating piece of history in late 16th century England,” he said. “Most people know the story of Mary Queen of Scots but we are not just retelling a story, we are giving an insight into the unseen emotions of the establishment of royalty, who are put in really difficult political dilemmas.
Mary Stuart is on at the Lowry in Salford from the 17th – 21st of April, tickets and information can be found here.