The Stuarts on BBC Radio 4
BBC Radio 4, 29 June 2013
This opening play in the chronicle
of The Stuarts had Mary, Queen of Scots (Jeany Spark) trying to maintain power and influence in a Scotland rife with
plots and counter-plots. Using John Knox (Brian Cox) as her confidante, while not trusting a word he said, she played
an elaborate power game from her childhood onwards, skilfully balancing the claims of various suitors including Darnley (Tom
Mison) and Bothwell (Michael Bertenshaw). In Sasha Yevtshenko and Jessica Dromgoole's production, Mary came across as
a shrewd political operator - someone who knew how to guarantee her personal in a context where no one was quite what they
Walker's play came across as an historical spy drama, very much reminiscent of a John le Carré novel. Radio works
particularly well for this kind of piece, in which one or two characters speak to one another close to the microphone.
This strategy not only establishes a rapport with listeners, but conjures up a world of secrecy, in which public utterances
are distrusted and every piece of information is communicated in private. Brian Cox's Knox was a past master at this
kind of talk, at once sincere yet sinister in his method of delivery. By contrast Spark's Mary remained constant throughout;
her tones rarely changed, but it was clear that, to invoke the phrase of another Iron Lady, she was "a lady not for turning."