BWW Review: The highs and lows of leadership are laid bare in MOTHER'S DAUGHTER
England's first female regent is often forgotten and relatively unknown, but in Soulpepper's remount of MOTHER'S DAUGHTER, Queen Mary gets her moment in the sun - whether she wants it or not.
Directed by Alan Dilworth, it's a vibrant finale to Kate Hennig's Tudor Queens trilogy; but for those who might have missed its predecessors (I myself only saw second work in the series, THE VIRGIN TRIAL), it's still a crackling standalone work.
Based around key moments in history, Hennig's script explores what might have happened behind the scenes as Mary (Shannon Taylor), the first Queen of England to completely control the monarchy, took the throne. It opens as she and her advisors Susan (Maria Vacratsis) and Bassett (Beryl Bain) are deciding how to reclaim the title of leader from her late brother Edward VI's law that put their cousin Jane (Andrea Rankin) on the throne instead. As the play moves on, Mary takes on her birthright with equal parts humour and horror; dealing with her impending and mostly forced marriage; trying to placate and unite the country's Catholic and Protestant populations. And all this while her half-sister Bess (Jessica B. Hill), the daughter of Anne Boleyn, is a threat disguised as a friend with one foot in the rebellion and the other in Mary's heart. She also must deal with reoccurring visits from her mother's ghost Catalina (Fiona Byrne) that push her towards power, regardless of the blood she'd leave in her wake.
MOTHER'S DAUGHTER is a relentless piece, demanding at every turn, and most obviously on Mary. Taylor never leaves the stage and despite the huge pieces of dialogue, keeps a great balance between the despair of a woman left cleaning up a man's mess and plenty of dark humour. Hill and Taylor are electric together, with their ongoing game of cat and mouse as appealing as the afterlife confrontations between their mothers - in their first face-off, Hill takes the stage as Anne and clashes with Byrne in a moment that should set a standard for female fights. It's not physical, but the cutting dialogue leaves its mark. As the teenage Jane, Rankin is incredibly sweet, which only contrasts the ruthless nature of nearly every other character. It makes her false hope even more tragic as her story unfolds and makes it understandable when her end brings on a new, more ruthless version of Mary - one that makes the 'Bloody Mary' moniker make sense.
The minimalist three-level set design (Lorenzo Savoini) works beautifully against the neon lighting (Kimberly Purtell) around the stage. When deceased characters enter the scene, crackling lights add to the ethereal, supernatural aspect of the story, while the small, simple crucifix hung above is a stark reminder of the country's - and Mary's - ongoing religious struggles. Costumes, also by Savoini, mix modern and historically influenced pieces interestingly, and works hand-in-hand with the blend of formal and casual language Hennig has based the script in.
MOTHER'S DAUGHTER is a fast-paced, refreshingly feminist piece that works as a historical examination as well as it works as a modern cautionary tale. The threats of religious, social, and political issues are still relevant today, and with Taylor grounding the tale of a woman thrown into the chaos of a country in upheaval, it's a fitting end to the trilogy that's made waves since the first play debuted.
Soulpepper's MOTHER'S DAUGHTER runs through February 9 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto, ON.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit https://www.soulpepper.ca/performances/mother-s-daughter/7617
Photo credit: Dahlia Katz