Words: Michael Whitham
Daddy issues are nothing new, as this inventive take on Mary Tudor’s story makes clear. Here, Mary is depicted as a Gen Z Valley Girl. The spine of the story maintains historical accuracy, but in this version it is explored through the lens of a modern young woman who must contend with social media, celebrity culture and the Me Too movement. The show is deft at using a fun spin on the story to expose the true horror of Mary Tudor’s life – separated from her mother, Mary was tormented, threatened, exploited and abused, only to be ultimately stripped of everything she was promised. Despite all this, we learn that Mary managed to overcome the vile treatment at the hands of her father and become a strong, steadfast and intelligent woman. The show also does a good job of spotlighting the bystander effect, in which so-called ‘good’ and powerful people do nothing despite the atrocities taking place right before their eyes. A theme with clear and powerful resonances in our modern public life and immediate echoes of the Trump presidency.
Where the show struggles is in understanding where its own strengths – and weaknesses – are. The parts of the performance which are rooted firmly in theatre – clear storytelling from behind the fourth wall – are much stronger than the parts that lean into stand up, where Mary doesn’t quite manage to land gags or banter with the fairly reluctant audience. Mary’s is a story with plenty of material and the script was clearly written by someone passionate about the character. It could easily carry a 50 minute piece of theatre, peppered with casual jokes, funny observations and poignant moments. Some of the humour feels clever and well crafted – Mary reflecting on what a big night out looks like in the 1500s, or comparing Catholicism to reality TV. However, the unscripted stand up comedy elements unfortunately do not feel like they belong in this show. Nor are they best use of the actors considerable strengths which lie in storytelling and characterisation, rather than in doing chit-chat with the audience. The venue (a long, rectangular meeting room downstairs in EICC) and the time-slot (10pm) also do not do this show justice. Olivia Miller is an obviously gifted performer and one to watch, but this promising show struggles to know exactly what it is and how best to tell its character’s fascinating tale.