Mary’s Hand

First performed in 2018, Mary’s Hand is an opera about the life and reign of Queen Mary I for solo mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble.

“Elegant, thoughtful, current without being gimmicky and immaculately presented, Mary’s Hand is a 70-minute rebuke to the UK’s major opera companies.

At the centre of it all, holding the stage with girlish, flickering fingers and a pitiless thrust of the chin is mezzo-soprano Clare McCaldin… an outstanding singer and actress”

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ The Independent 

Original production 2018:
Words and direction – Di Sherlock
Music – Martin Bussey
Costume design – Andie Scott and Sophie Meyer
Set design – Andie Scott

Lighting design, Spring Tour 2019 – Antony Hateley

Press release 2019 (download pdf)

Watch the video of our London 2018 show for Tête à Tête: the Opera Festival
View publicity images by Robert Workman 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
View images by Laurel Turton of our London 2018 show for Tête à Tête Opera on Flickr

Clare interviewed on London Live, June 2018

Read Di Sherlock’s libretto for Mary’s Hand.
Read our souvenir programme

Read the reviews for the 2018 London performances

mary's hand
Clare as Queen Mary in a performance of Mary’s Hand at Holy Cross Church, London.

Eclipsed by her younger half-sister, Elizabeth, Mary Tudor lies ‘in the shadow hand of Time’ – confused with Mary Queen of Scots, vilified as ‘Bloody Mary’ or forgotten. Hailed at her funeral as ‘a King’s daughter’ (first child of Henry VIII) and ‘King also’ (first 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.

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.

Mary’s dress is a replica of the dress worn in her portrait by Hans Eworth (right), currently in the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of London. 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, Andie Scott & Sophie Meyer, 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 75 minutes without interval.

2020 Performance Dates (retained for records)

  • 4 April East Riding Theatre CANCELLED (please read this statement from New Paths Music) New Paths Music Festival, Beverley 
  • 28 April Mayfield Festival, East Sussex CANCELLED
  • 25 September Aldeburgh Parish Church CANCELLED
  • 30 September Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London CANCELLED
  • 1 October Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London CANCELLED

Previous performances of Mary’s Hand


  • 21 June St Mary’s Creative Space, Chester
  • 1 & 2 August, Holy Cross Church, Cromer Street (for Tete a Tete: The Opera Festival)


  • 15 February at The Society of Antiquaries of London, in front of the Hans Eworth portrait of Mary on which the Mary’s Hand costume is based, with an accompanying talk from historian Dr John Cooper
  • 19 February at St Paul’s Church, Wilton Place, London SW1
  • 22 February Queen’s Hall, Hexham
  • 23 February Lancaster Priory, Lancaster
  • 27 April in the Music in Pinner Series
  • 30 July Three Choirs Festival. Historian and author Linda Porter gives a companion talk – The Real Bloody Mary – on 31 July