Mary’s Hand

mary's hand

Photo by Robert Workman

Mary’s Hand is a new music theatre work about the life and reign of Queen Mary I.
(Press release, pdf)

Eclipsed by her younger half-sister, Elizabeth, Mary Tudor lies ‘in the shadow hand of Time’ – confused with Mary Queen of Scots, vilifed as ‘Bloody Mary’ or forgotten. Hailed at her funeral as ‘a King’s daughter’ (frst child of Henry VIII) and ‘King also’ (frst Queen of England to rule in her own right) the hand that Fortune dealt her was a tricky one. She lies beneath Elizabeth in Westminster Abbey, awaiting resurrection in the afterlife and in the popular imagination.

It’s a little-known fact that Mary loved games of chance. At the beginning of Mary’s Hand Mary invites the audience to help tell her story in a game of cards. The cards (Court Cards – Royals only!) represent the key players in her life. For the show to begin the audience must choose a card. The choice of that and subsequent cards determines the order in which she will sing her story and reflect upon influences and events: her father Henry VIII, her mother Catherine of Aragon, her Catholic faith, as well as the perceived causes of her troubles; her half-brother Edward, half-sister Elizabeth, the ever-stronger Protestant faith, and her desperate desire for a child.

Clare McCaldin in rehearsal as Queen Mary 1

Above all, Mary was driven by the wish to be a good monarch and her deep conviction that she needed to restore England to the Church of Rome. Her marriage to the Catholic Philip II of Spain promised to resolve many of these issues at a stroke, but Mary played her cards badly and paid a high public and personal price.

With words by Di Sherlock and music by Martin Bussey, Mary’s Hand is performed by solo mezzo-soprano Clare McCaldin and is scored for cello, trumpet and oboe/cor anglais.

Queen Mary I, by Hans Eworth (1554)

Mary’s dress is a replica of the dress worn in her portrait by Hans Eworth (right). It was important that the dress and undergarments should be as historically accurate as possible in appearance and construction, while accommodating the additional requirements of ongoing performances. Our designers preserved aspects of the portrait’s painterliness as well as employing modern construction techniques to enable the dress to function performatively within the action of the show. Key items of jewellery shown in the portrait image were also re-created.

Following a successful crowdfunding campaign in April 2018, we secured the support necessary to finish the dress as intended. There are more images, like those below, from the various stages of preparation of the dress on our social media sites (principally Twitter & Instagram) as well as a video from a final fitting on Facebook.

Mary’s Hand runs for approximately one hour without interval. It will be performed on

Mary’s Hand premiere in Chester