Queen Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudor line, reigned as the queen of England for 44 years. She ruled during a volatile period in British history.
In a land divided by religious factions, Elizabeth brought stability and withstood a tide of rising opposition.
“She can hold her ground. And I love that about Elizabeth. Don’t mess with Elizabeth. She can take you down whenever she wants to, be it via language or in court, or with sword fighting,” says Susan Lankester, who is playing the Virgin Queen in a local staging of Shadow In The Sun.
Shadow In The Sun, directed by Datuk Zahim Albakri, tells the story of Elizabeth and her acrimonious relationship with Mary, Queen of Scots, her first cousin once removed, played by Sarah Shahrum.
The 90-minute play is currently playing at DPAC, Empire Damansara in Petaling Jaya till Nov 18.
The costumes for the two iconic roles were fashioned by Melinda Looi and the set was designed by Raja Malek, who was the production designer for the award-winning Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical, also directed by Zahim.
Shadow In The Sun begins with Mary leaving Scotland after she is forced to abdicate her throne in favour of her one-year-old son James VI. She then flees to England, seeking Elizabeth’s protection.
Seeing that Mary had a rightful claim to the throne, Elizabeth places her under house arrest for 19 years. The two women had never and would never meet until the end.
The only mode of communication between Mary and Elizabeth were through letters and dispatches. The play is the dramatisation of these letters, leading to Mary’s brutal execution.
“What people will find interesting about the play is that there is a lot of intrigue and conspiracies going on. And the political angles are not too far from what we are accustomed to,” says Zahim, one of the founders of the Instant Cafe Theatre.
The 54-year-old Lankester, who was last seen on stage at this year’s George Town Festival’s The Human Voice (directed by festival director Joe Sidek), says that playing this iconic role is both exciting and daunting.
“You don’t get offered such roles that often. So I jumped at the chance. But unlike Zahim and Sarah, who had studied Shakespeare before, I hadn’t and the language proved to be a problem,” she mentions.
For Lankester, this historical tale, which could so easily be a soap opera, has everything – love, jealousy and two powerful women.
But there are a few revealing moments about Elizabeth’s character that really drew Lankester in.
“There’s a scene that I really love. You see the queen’s softer side. It’s the part where you see the true being behind the queen and what she’s forced to do and what she doesn’t want to do and you see her break down and just open her heart,” she reveals.
Shadow In The Sun was co-written by the late Kate O’Mara, the English stage and TV actor, best known for playing Caress Morell in the 1980s American soap opera Dynasty.
O’Mara began researching the Queen of Scots and after collating letters, historical documents and reported speeches, she devised Shadow In The Sun. The play was first performed in Britain in 2004, with O’Mara playing Mary and Patricia Shakesby playing Queen Elizabeth I.
“Usually, when you read historical books, what you hear is the writer’s point of view or ideas,” says Zahim, 54.
“But when you read texts from letters and speeches, you get a real insight into the characters of these two women. Mind you, these were personal letters, so they reveal a lot.”
Shadow In The Sun is on at the DPAC, Empire Damansara, Damansara Perdana, Petaling Jaya in Selangor on Nov 10 (8.30pm), Nov 11 (3.30pm/8.30Pm), Nov 12 (7pm), Nov 16 (8.30pm), Nov 17 (2.30pm/8.30pm) and Nov 18 (8.30pm). Tickets are priced at RM110, RM120 and RM55 (concession). For more info, call 03-4065 0001. Book tickets: www.dpac.com.my. The show will also play at PenangPac on Nov 22 and 23.