Classic texts such as Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller are often given a facelift by companies wishing to explore them in new and exciting ways. The classic texts are often considered a right of passage for actors and directors alike, with even the most prestigious of those who grace our stages returning to them after refining their art elsewhere. They are not, however, an easy task. So it is a joy to have the young and brash Faction Theatre Company tackling Schiller’s text with such impeccable force as part of their REP Season playing at The New Diorama Theatre. A Younger Theatre’s Ryan Sullivan had already given praise to Twelfth Night, so my expectations were high for Mary Stuart.¬†Faction Theatre Company proved that skill and talent can be found in the tiniest of details and moments.

Harking back to Elizabeth I’s reign over England and the uprising of Mary Stuart’s followers, Schiller’s text focuses on the dark and troublesome relationship between these two cousins, in a battle of religion, power and dominance over the men that surround them. Schiller’s text is much like a pendulum that swings back and forth between the power struggle.

For Mark Leipacher’s production it is this sense of the movement and claustrophobic chaos that surrounds these two enchanting women (Mary Stuart brilliantly played by Derval Mellett and Elizabeth I played by Kate Sawyer with forceful determination), that makes¬†Mary Stuart a compelling and utterly engrossing evening of theatre. Rarely does fringe theatre see the sheer level of commitment to text, delivery of dialogue and transgression of character than Leipacher’s direction has offered to Mary Stuart. It’s a production that encourages its audience to sink their teeth into Schiller’s delightful portrayal of our historical past.

It would be hard to comment on Mary Stuart without discussing the stripped-back and exposed staging that gives life to The New Diorama Theatre. Faction Theatre Company’s REP Season makes full use of the black box studio with minimal but clever lighting by Martin Dewar, little to no set, and costumes that often act more as signals of characters than dressing them completely. As an audience we are are drawn into this sparce landscape and revel in Schiller’s text. Faction Theatre Company gives so much life to the text that their ensemble style of performance works flawlessly.

Mary Stuart is gripping, with moments where I found myself leaning forwards into the action. It’s true that Leipacher has been helped in creating a brilliant production because the text on offer is of such richness, but it is the sense of ensemble, of commitment to dialogue, that wins us over. Written in 1800, there is a distinct feeling that Schiller would have been proud of this production had he been watching today.

There were other highlights amongst the cast, especially Richard Delaney’s concise and rich Lord Burleigh, Gareth Fordred’s slightly mischievous Leicester and Andrew Chevalier’s Tailbot. When centered around both Mellett and Sawyer as the two central female characters, the notions of exploitation, of gender power-struggles, and of constant determination, were made all the more pressing and clear. Sawyer showed a real sense of loss and unbalance in Elizabeth as she propelled herself to sign her sister’s death warrant.

What we have in Faction Theatre Company is a company that gives a clear and precise message to its audience. From text to performance to delivery, it is refined and enlightening. A joy to experience as part of their REP Season. If you had your wits about you, you would go and buy a ticket to all three shows before they sell out.

Mary Stuart is playing at the New Diorama Theatre until 18th February. For more information and tickets, see the New Diorama Theatre website.