Salzburg (dpa) – Naked male bodies as far as the eye can see. And between two women who are fighting for their lives. Martin Kusej directed Friedrich Schiller’s “Maria Stuart” as an almost abstract psychological thriller for the Salzburg Festival, in which Birgit Minichmayr in the title role and Bibiana Beglau as Queen Elisabeth come to the fore.

“I can well imagine Schiller would be a very popular Sky or HBO writer today,” the director recently said of the poet, whose drama queen was greeted enthusiastically by audiences in Salzburg on Saturday night.

Fans of “The Crown” and other series on crowned heads dive into the world of aristocratic intrigue over many episodes and seasons. Kusej has only one evening to recount the last days of the captive Scottish Queen Maria Stuart, who is not only at the mercy of her English rival Elizabeth, but also of various courtiers and supposed protectors.

The director and conductor of the Burgtheater in Vienna and his scenographer Annette Murschetz rely on economical theatrical means such as a severed head, a swinging light bulb or a dark fog. But above all, they are based on 30 silent extras who, with their bodies mostly naked, represent the total male dominance that the play tells like a living scenography.

However, Kusej’s staging is only slowly gaining momentum. Minichmayr, attached to a red collar and pink leash, stays in place in her first scene with minimal range of motion. But as the evening progresses, the actress shows the full extent of the horror she’s going through, especially through large facial expressions – from the hope of mercy to mistrust to the horror of death. next.

Elisabeth, torn between feeling, power and machinations, gives an impression. What at first glance looks like a little too much emotion for an English ruler turns out to be a multi-faceted portrayal of a queen who basically wants to be human despite all politics.

Opposite the women is a small set of top-notch male actors who, like Minichmayr and Beglau, belong to the entire Burgtheater. As Earl of Leicester, Itay Tiran paints a psychologically convincing picture of a shady favorite who relies on calculation rather than love; Norman Hacker as Baron von Burleigh shines as Elisabeth’s viciously brutal whisperer.

The men in the room denigrate the two women, shoot them, try to manipulate them. Since Stuart’s death in 1587 and the play’s premiere in 1800, it doesn’t seem like much has changed, given the debates over sexual assault, the ruthless cover of the English royal family, or the guardianship of the former queen of pop Britney Spears. At the end of Kusej’s staging, the three walls of the scattered scenography are transformed into an immense mirror in which the public recognizes itself.