It’s So Nice
Irreverent and beguiling history play
This article is from 2012.
Part physical theatre, part clowning about, this bilingual show that takes a look at the relationship between Mary, Queen of Scots and her cousin Elizabeth I is an absolute delight. It takes the form of a history play-cum-lecture-cum-travelogue as conceived and performed by the quite lovely but very quirky French/Belgian duo Barbara Sylvain and Lula Béry. Slideshows, maps and family trees are utilised to explain the complex (here cheekily offhandedly potted) historical context of the estranged 16th century relations. These props are employed to complement a series of talks, delivered in a French/English/super-title mash-up, and these in turn are punctuated by a number of physical theatre shape-throwing routines that serve as visual representations of various points made.
If that sounds a bit dry, it’s anything but. Sylvain and Béry cite Stefan Zweig’s 1930s biography of Mary Stuart as their starting point for the creation of the show, and, to be fair, they do cram a good deal of historical fact in to it. However, above and beyond being a history lesson, this is a vivid piece of physical theatre and, beyond that, a consistently amusing and frequently hilarious slice of irreverent comedy. Much of the humour is derived from the tension between the efforts Sylvain and Béry go to in order to maintain a professional bearing and the testy relationship they suffer with one another and which they are at pains to keep a lid on. Both actors play the whole thing completely and wonderfully deadpan.
In a clever masterstroke, Sylvain and Béry contrive to compare their own oddly dysfunctional relationship with that of Mary and Elizabeth. It’s a subtle conceit that slowly becomes apparent as this beguiling show progresses towards its conclusion. Encore!
Institut français d’Ecosse, 225 5366, until 24 Aug (not 18 & 19), 4pm, £10 (£8).