Young Critics | Mary Stuart

After watching Mary Stuart, the Young Critics had a chance to meet director Robert Icke to hear more about what draws him to a play in the first place, how his ideas developed during rehearsal and the process of working with two actors sharing two roles.

The Young Critics workshops generally consist of lengthy discussions about plays, dedicating time and space to unpicking each person’s response to a play recently seen. The programme asks that the Young Critics respond in different ways to theatre including blog posts, haikus, letters and collages.

Below is an extract from their discussion on Mary Stuart, ruminating on the effect of having two actors swap roles every night dependant on the toss of a coin.


Callum McCartney: To give a general synopsis of the play, the play follows two queens who are Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. Elizabeth is holding Mary prisoner and is deciding whether or not to execute her and it’s about the consequences and ramifications of if she does go ahead and do that. There is a moment where a coin is flipped and that determines whether Lia Williams or Juliet Stevenson play the role of Elizabeth or Mary. And we saw on our night, was it Lia as Mary?

Caitlin Hobbs: Yes. I’m finally learning which actress is which. Yeah, well one thing we talked about is that the two actresses while they look actually quite similar, they really brought the differences in their own physicalities to the two different roles especially when it came to displaying power.

Sami Ibrahim: It was really interesting because the others were talking about how when they saw it Juliet Stevenson played Elizabeth and they couldn’t imagine her, that she’s so regal, that they couldn’t imagine her playing Mary, and they couldn’t imagine this kind of spindly Lia Williams playing Elizabeth. But I saw Lia Williams as Elizabeth and the whole play, it sounded like, switched. And Elizabeth instead of being regal became this kind of weasely shrewd character who was manipulating and controlling. And Juliet Stevenson’s regal air became pushed more and more and she became more fraught and manic and it worked very well. 

Callum McCartney: And then Rob, when we asked him about it was talking about why he made this decision to do this coin toss. He spoke a lot about the dualities and slight differences between these two characters in terms of the respect that they are technically both queens. But in terms of their differences he spoke about the idea of control and public image and how Elizabeth presents herself very much as the virgin Queen as this sort of public branding exercise and it’s very very successful. She’s sort of forced into that position by her own image. In contrast to that, Mary very much is acting on impulse or shoots from the hip, whatever you want to call it, and she acts as the antithesis to that idea.

Ellie-Mae Turner-Wood: We’ve just talked about the difference of seeing two plays and I think I would like to see it again just to see the difference in what Rob wants to achieve with having two – like the deciding on the night of who’s going to play who. I think for me, in your mind you see who you saw as Elizabeth and Mary and they become quite distinct people. I think it is really interesting to switch it about and discover them as different people and actually see them portrayed differently and I think it is quite an interesting concept.


Find out more about our Young Critics programme at

For more about our Participation programme and how to get involved visit


You might also like