Mother’s Daughter is the third installment in Kate Hennig’s Queenmaker Trilogy. It follows The Last Wife and The Virgin Trial. All three plays can be viewed independently, however, it has been interesting to go on the three play journey. I found The Last Wife to be the most compelling of the three. In the plays, Hennig reimagines historical characters from a feminist viewpoint. We learn about Elizabeth I, Mary, Katherine Parr and other women who were instrumental to the monarchy but in many ways, have been largely overpowered by the male narrative.
The piece is impressively staged with a striking set created by Lorenzo Savoini, who also created the arresting costumes. The set is a simple concept but the result is quite dynamic. There are illuminated squares in varying sizes with a higher platform that has a lit cross in the corner. The cross changes from white to red when the tension amps up. As characters enter and exit the stage, they are swallowed up when they walk through the illuminated boxes, engulfed by the black curtains surrounding the doors.
Kimberly Purtell creates a bold lighting design. It was especially effective when Catalina would enter the stage, there would be a flickering of the lights and a buzzing sound, almost like her presence was either short circuiting the room or bringing it to life.
Alan Dilworth does a nice job with staging and moving the story along but I did find the pace too quick in some spots. He made the choice to have the characters talk over one another, which of course happens in real life, but in this context, it didn’t feel natural. It also just made the dialogue sound jumbled and unclear.
Shannon Taylor plays Mary and this chapter in the trilogy revolves around her story. I liked that she brought a certain quirkiness to Mary that made her seem more relatable and less like a monarch. It seemed that she was trying to recreate some of the humour that she might have found in rehearsal. At times, this didn’t sound freshly discovered or land believably. Also, her voice sounded caught in the back of her throat inhibiting some of the vocal power she might have been able to find. Andrea Rankin does some nice, understated work as Jane and Maria Vacratsis is a grounding force as Susan.
Hennig made the choice to use modern language which I enjoyed and also made a conscious choice to use both modern and historically accurate wardrobe. I am sure there was a reason for this but I would have prefered either one or the other. Fully modernize or do it in a classical style. I am sure there was some bold reason that this was chosen but I couldn’t discern what it might be from seeing the play, so I just left confused by that aspect.
The tricky part of these plays is that so much is exposition. There are some dramatic moments but the bulk of the play is people discussing this or that with very little action. So there is a challenge to keep the audience engaged in the journey. I don’t have intimate knowledge of any of these women and perhaps people that have studied their stories and are more well versed in the history of the monarchy might find the play more interesting than I did.