Though it's 40 years since Italian playwright Dacia Maraini wrote "Mary Stuart," this story of two queens — Elizabeth I of England and Ireland and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots — remains as relevant now as ever in its portrayal of two women burning with anger about their exploitation by men despite themselves contrasting so much in their outlooks on life and love.

In the upcoming Japanese production by rising-star English director Max Webster, the work's five roles are filled by just two actresses, with Miki Nakatani playing Mary (1542-87), Elizabeth's love rival and Elizabeth's nanny, while Misuzu Kanno portrays the so-called Virgin Queen (1533-1603) and one of Mary's servants.

Speaking to The Japan Times recently about this work that's generally described as being "feministic," Webster, 32, said: "I think its theme of gender is very important in this modern world, where there are great changes in how men and women relate to each other and how men are behaving and ways in which it is possible to be woman. Yet women still only fill 5 or 6 per cent of top executive jobs in many European countries, so though they may have legal equality there's a long way to go to achieve practical equality and equal rights for both sexes."