Review: Bloody Mary, St Peter’s Church, Belper

Treachery, corruption, rebellion, betrayal and death  – the life of Mary Tudor could never be described as dull.

She was the daughter of a King and Queen, the sister of a King and finally the wife of a King. She was England’s first Queen Regnant and reigned for five years until her death.

Despite all of that her story is told much less than that of her father Henry VIII and half sister Elizabeth I. 

Last night that all changed with the premiere of a new play by George Gunby – Bloody Mary: The Story of a Tudor Queen.

The ambitious drama, which was two years in the making, was staged in St Peter’s Church, Belper, by a talented team of actors and creatives who clearly don’t believe in doing anything by halves.

If you knew nothing about Mary Tudor when you arrived you certainly did by the time you had seen her blood thirsty reign condensed into a fascinating two hours. 

If you were clever enough to arrive early, and therefore able to read the very thorough programme notes beforehand you will have enjoyed it even more.

The level of commitment that must go into producing community theatre on this scale is mind-boggling. George and director Sue Reaney must command an amazing amount of respect to get a cast of 19 actors, musicians, dancers and a professional technical crew to sign up for the ride.

The  action was set in modern times, which (apart from doing away with the need for hordes of Tudor costumes) enabled the team to use film to tell parts of the story, including video news reports of the rebellion on the streets as Mary set about executing almost 300 heretics as she pushed forward the restoration of Catholicism.

However the church setting and clever use of the court jester (the only female court jester in history) as well as a few key props ensured that the play didn’t lose its 16th century ambience.

Kay Facer Swann gave a strong performance as Queen Mary and Sali Gresham as Jane Foole, the court Jester was tremendously entertaining. 

However, for me, it was Harriet Swann as the young Elizabeth who was the star of the show. She was feisty and fearless much like Elizabeth herself. I hope that she will be around to perform for the third play in George’s trilogy, centred on Elizabeth when the time comes.

The rest of the cast were: Jeff Foster, Amy Bradbury, Larry Waller, Louise Jenkins, Holly Waites, Eddie Bennett, Martin Weston, John Briscoe, Roger Whiting, Hermione Swann, Terry Stevenson, Joe Campbell, Viv Crowther, Sarah Bradbury, Michael Fletcher and Mik Horvath.

The music was performed  by The Ferretts, with music written by Markus Ferret Paine and lyrics by Nancy Ferrett Paine. The dancers were Black Pig Border Morris.

Videographer and graphics were by Andy Mayers, video sound was by James Oldrini, live lights by John Reaney, transport by Paul Terry. Other team members were Richard Pinkett, Richard Poyser and Lynne Beardmore.

Go to http://www.belperartsfestival.org to find out if and when the play is to be performed again.

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