Liz Lochhead's play Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off is about the bitter rivalry between Mary, Queen of Scots, and her cousin and fellow ruler, Elizabeth I of England. The story is presented in a distinctive cabaret style, with much of the dialogue in the 'Braid Scots' vernacular. It explores the deep sectarian divisions within Scotland and dramatises the fateful moment the country rejected Mary’s Catholicism for the Protestantism of anti-feminist revolutionary John Knox.
It was first performed by the Communicado Theatre Company at the Lyceum Studio Theatre, Edinburgh, on 10 August 1987. It was revived, with a revised text, by the National Theatre of Scotland in 2009, when it was first performed at Druimfin, Tobermory, Mull, on 18 April at the start of a tour.
The play's action is introduced and narrated by a crow-like character known as La Corbie. Following the death of her husband, the Dauphin of France, the beautiful and staunchly Catholic Mary Stuart returns to the British Isles to rule Scotland, a country she neither knows nor understands. Ill-prepared to rule in her own right, Mary has failed to learn what her Protestant cousin, Elizabeth Tudor, knows only too well: that a queen must rule with her head, not her heart. All too soon the stage is set for a deadly endgame in which there can only be one winner and one queen to rule the green island.
In her introduction to the revised text published in 2009, Lochhead describes the play as 'a debate about the then current state of affairs between Scotland and England. ... Margaret Thatcher is not Queen Elizabeth the First, but questions of women and power – and how to hold on to it – are always there as we consider either icon. There was at that time a real sense of frustration in Scotland, a need for us to tell our own stories and find our own language to tell it in.'
The 1987 Communicado Theatre production was directed by Gerard Mulgrew and designed by Colin MacNeil. It was performed by Anne Wood, Myra McFadyen, Anne Lacey, Alison Peebles, Stuart Hepburn, Gerard Mulgrew, Frank McConnell and John Mitchell.
The 2009 National Theatre of Scotland revival was directed by Alison Peebles (a member of the original cast) and designed by Kenny Miller. It was performed by Joyce Falconer, Jo Freer, Angela Darcy, John Kielty, Lewis Howden, Marc Brew and Owen Whitelaw.