Tag Archives: Mary Queen of Scots

A bit of history on Mary, Queen of Scots

Dramaturgical notes on Mary Stuart

Six days before the death of her father, James V, (after battle with the English in southern Scotland) Mary Stuart was born on December 8th 1542, in the great royal palace of Linlithgow in Scotland. She was his sole legitimate heir. The infant was crowned Queen of Scots in 1543.

At that time there was a lot of unrest in Scotland, what with the English attacks and the strong support many of the Scottish lords were giving the new Protestantism. Her mother, the French Mary of Guise, decided to send her infant daughter to France for safety and the comfort of her own family in 1548, while she stayed in Scotland as the Regent. Mary passed her childhood in France; she was educated by French scholars and musicians, spoke a variety of languages with French being the language she preferred, wrote poetry, danced, played the lute, and was a master embroiderer. She was talented, accomplished, and beautiful. As planned, in 1558, she married the fifteen year old Dauphin, who became king the following year. Now she was queen of Scotland and France.

Sadly widowed less than two years later, she returned to Scotland as its queen after an absence in France of thirteen years. When she arrived in Edinburgh in 1561 to take the throne she was a naive, Roman Catholic nineteen-year-old with no prejudice against those who preferred the reformed faith. She was unaware of the power of the new Reformation that was to lead to civil war, an eventual  Protestant coup, a humiliating “trial” and her own abdication in 1567.

Unfortunately, her reign and life itself brought her tragedy: the murder of  her beloved friend Rizzio in front of her eyes, the subsequent murder of her second husband, Darnley, the exiling of Bothwell, her third husband, and suspect in the abusive Darnley’s murder, the birth of her son, James, who was taken from her to be brought up in the  Protestant faith, and a constitutional revolution ending in a deposed Mary.

She finally decided to throw herself upon the mercy of her cousin and rival, Elizabeth in England. The year was 1568. Unfortunately, Mary survived religious revolt and political opposition in her native land only to be denied her eventual freedom and was imprisoned as a threat to Elizabeth at age 25.  Mary requested many times to meet with Elizabeth face to face to explain her case. This never happened.

Finally,  after 19 years later in prison, at the age of forty four, Mary experienced her violent death, brought about  by her rival and “sister”,  Elizabeth, Queen of England.

Written by Dorothy Sermol (mother of Luisa, who plays the title role in Mary Stuart)

Luisa Sermol on crafting Mary Queen of Scots in Mary Stuart

In three sentences, describe the character you play in Mary Stuart.

I play Mary Stuart, otherwise known as Mary Queen of Scots. Underneath the voluminous amount of history that describes her, she is, at her core, a woman of faith, passion, intelligence, and lover of beauty. Born in Scotland, and whisked off to France at age 6 (later Queen of France for a short time), Mary was well educated, charismatic, artistic,and refined. A rightful heir also to the English crown (as her cousin, Elizabeth was the daughter of a marriage not recognized by the Catholic church–Anne Boleyn to Henry Viii), no wonder Elizabeth was threatened by her, thus imprisoning her for 19 years, before the final step…

What is your favorite line in the play (yours or someone else’s) and why?

“I am your Queen” (obviously, to Elizabeth)

What is the biggest challenge for you to overcome in this role/play? 

As a Scot myself, I was brought up to idolize Mary Stuart. I didn’t really know why–just that she was unfairly killed by the English Queen Elizabeth. (I also grew up with a good humored enmity for the English–it seemed to have been built into Scottish history.) In taking on the role of Mary, and really having to bring her to life, one of the more curious challenges was to figure out her dialect. My romantic image of her would be, of course,to have a Scottish accent. But in my research, I had to come to terms with the fact that she was more French than Scottish. Although born in Scotland to Mary Guise (a French woman) and James V (King of Scotland)–her father died and in one of the first acts of protection, her mother sent Mary to France. Here she was brought up in a highly sophisticated court. She spoke mainly in French and was known to have thought of French as her first language (It is said that it is the language in which she thought and wrote). But she was also a highly intelligent woman,great at languages and also a musician.Therefore, she is able to adapt her language with ease (she can “code-switch”). I did a lot of research to just find her voice. I, myself, used to have a Scottish dialect when I first came to this country at age 3. I don’t have one now, except for a couple of words. Mary was 6 when she went to France, so there would be certain Scottish sounds that would stay with her. (She would not, for example, be unable to make the “h” sound in English–as so many French dialects might exclude. She would keep the flat “a” of the Scots). Ultimately, in exploring different options, when I spoke her words in a French dialect with Scots sounds, I felt more of what she must have felt like. More of a woman, not really all Scottish, not really all French. It made me feel like an outsider in England, in Scotland, and in France. And so, I have found the voice for my Mary.

If you could choose one song that represents this show for you, what would it be?

“The Girl with the Weight of the World in Her Hands” (Indigo Girls) (<- click the link to hear the song!)

What have been some of your favorite shows to work on in Portland?

This is a tough question! Each role has brought its own joy–whether working and getting to know fabulous creative people, taking on a huge challenge, telling a story that needs to be told.

What are your non-theater hobbies?

hmmm…my day job, being a mother to a 17 year old, and flying Southwest Airlines to visit my boyfriend in the Bay Area. When I have time, reading,making earrings, cooking, playing my viola.

What’s your favorite bar/restaurant/venue for post-show theater debrief?

What’s around the corner, or my parent’s dining room.

If you could dedicate your performance to someone, who would it be and why?

It would be to my mother, Dorothy, who has filled my life with love of Scotland. Among the many songs she sang to my sister and me, one always haunted me. It was “The Queen’s Maries”-a song about a lady in waiting to Mary (Mary had four ladies in waiting, all named Mary). Years later, when my daughter Isabella heard the song, she too was haunted and ended up writing an historical fiction novel inspired by it.  My mother’s voice is filled with the beauty and the passion and the love of the Scots and is someone Mary Queen of Scots would have loved.

Cate Garrison on Hannah Kennedy, Mary’s Handmaiden in Mary Stuart

In three sentences, describe the character you play in Mary Stuart.

Hannah Kennedy is Mary’s lady-in-waiting, nurse, servant, mother-figure, and friend. She is fiercely loyal and protective, almost to the point of denial of any kind of guilt on Mary’s part. She is also pragmatic and realistic, and tries to keep Mary’s feet firmly on the ground in her moments of romantic rapture. By the end, however, it is Mary’s strength that keeps Hannah from crumbling in the face of grief and injustice.

What is your favorite line in the play (yours or someone else’s) and why?

So many to choose from! I am going to pick a line/image from one of Mary’s speeches to Elizabeth, where she describes herself and her erstwhile hopes:


All my ambitions creep along the ground.”

I love the image of Mary as a lapwing…a bird so often to be seen on the Scottish moors. And what is so compelling about this is, of course, that the lapwing only appears broken. It “acts” broken, to lead predators away from its nest, and is therefore astonishingly strong. Is Mary truly broken? Or is she still hiding something? We know by the end that she is strong. Is she so strong that she can even go to her grave without giving everything away? This question is very much the crux of the encounter from which this quote is taken, and not resolved until the very end of the play, if at all.

So it is a beautiful, but also a clever image.

What is the biggest challenge for you to overcome in this role/play?

As with the previous question…so many, so many! But for the purposes of this blog, I think I would isolate the notion that Hannah is both very like me and very UNLIKE me. I have to focus on her forthrightness, her down-to- earthness, her absolute will to appear…and be…strong, where Cate would probably give in and let go much sooner and more often. Of course Hannah does let go also, but she and I have a very different tipping point.

If you could choose one song that represents this show for you, what would it be?

Well, speaking from my character’s point of view, Hannah’s love for and loyalty to Mary is so powerful that, although it is NOT by any means a romantic or sexual love, the song/poem that comes to mind is of course Robbie Burns’ “ A Red, Red Rose.” I think many people felt this way about Mary, both before and after her death, and of course that is what Elizabeth could not tolerate.

Here is my favorite version, by Kenneth McKellar (I defy you not to weep!):


O my Luve is like a red, red rose

That’s newly sprung in June;

O my Luve is like the melodie

That’s sweetly play’d in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

So deep in luve am I:

And I will luve thee still, my dear,

Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,

And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:

I will luve thee still, my dear,

While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve

And fare thee well, a while!

And I will come again, my Luve,

Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

If you could dedicate your performance to someone, who would it be and why?

My father, Allan Nicol, was a Scotsman. Hannah’s idiolect is based on his. He died, unjustly and innocently, in a senseless road accident when I was a little girl. His absence in my life has been as real as any presence. I would dedicate all Hannah’s words, and love, to him.

Check out the preview for Mary Stuart

Click on the link below to see a 2-minute preview of the forthcoming Mary Stuart, presented by Northwest Classical and Cygnet Productions.

Mary Stuart Promo


Mary Stuart by Peter Oswald – opens February 27th



Northwest Classical Theatre Company and Cygnet Productions join forces to bring the Portland premier of the multi-award winning drama, Mary Stuart by Peter Oswald on Feb 27th- March 29th, 2015 at the Shoebox Theatre.

Nominated for 7 Tony awards in 2009, Mary Stuart, based on the original 19th Century classic by Friedrich Schiller, is a taut political thriller that examines the cost two women must pay when forced to choose between power and love.

Mary Stuart, a staunch Catholic, is imprisoned in England—nominally for the murder of her husband, Darnley, but actually because she has pushed her claim to the throne of England currently held by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Elizabeth’s advisors urge her to sign the death warrant before Mary’s supporters succeed. The pen is poised when a request from Mary to meet her in person arrives, offering Elizabeth a possible way out and a chance to meet her famously beautiful cousin who threw her power away for love.

Starring two of Portland’s most powerful and multi-Drammy Award winning actresses, Luisa Sermol plays Mary, Queen of Scots and Lorraine Bahr plays Queen Elizabeth I. This production also will feature an original score, composed by world class musicians Gayle- Stewe Neuman and Philip Nueman and a stellar cast of NWCTC seasoned veteran actors.
Director Elizabeth Huffman returns again to NWCTC having directed last year’s critically acclaimed Lion in Winter and winning King John in 2012.