Thursday, 16 November 2017

The Testament of Mary, Nov 9, 2017

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín, by Malthouse Theatre
Merlyn Theatre, at Malthouse, until Nov 26, 2017 
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Nov 9, 2017
Stars: ***1/2
 Review also published in Herald Sun online Arts in print & later online. KH
Pamela Rabe_Testamen tof Mary_Pamela Rabe_photo Pia Johnson

The brittle, sharp-witted character in Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary bears little resemblance to the biblical Mary, mother of Jesus, whose purity and forbearance inspired countless religious orders, churches and artworks.

In Anne-Louise Sarks’ production, Pamela Rabe vibrates with barely contained anxiety as she describes, from Mary’s perspective, events leading to the capture, torture and crucifixion of her unnamed son who we know to be Jesus Christ.

Mary roams the bleak, clinical, dimly lit rooms that feel like a prison as she waits for the return of two men, disciples of her son who need her to endorse their narrative that frames her son as a miracle worker and the Son of God.

But Mary tells a different story of a grieving mother wracked with guilt, fear and shame: a mother whose radicalised son is now unrecognisable to her.

Her tale resonates with stories of the mothers of radicalised zealots, who cannot understand their sons’ changed behaviour.

Tóibín’s text is lyrical, textured and richly evocative, using vivid, mesmerising word pictures to conjure Mary’s memories and to express an undercurrent of menace.

Rabe’s performance is intimate, restrained and steeped in pain as Mary relives episodes including Lazarus’s rising from the dead, a wedding at Cana, Jesus carrying the cross and his horrific crucifixion.

The most powerful scenes are Rabe speaking uninterrupted, directly to the audience, standing still and trembling without the earlier unnecessary action or lighting changes.

However, a body microphone amplifying her voice unnecessarily restricts Rabe’s vocal and emotional range and, although the stylish design (Marg Horwell, Paul Jackson) plants Mary firmly in the modern era, it does not illuminate Mary’s story or adequately reflect Tóibín’s poetic language.

Tóibín’s Mary’s grim story of a distraught mother is as credible as those of the male, gospel writers but hers is more realistic and accessible.

By Kate Herbert

costume & co-set design / Marg Horwell
lighting & co-set design / Paul Jackson
composition & sound design / Steve Toulmin
Pamela Rabe_Testamen tof Mary_Pamela Rabe_photo Pia Johnson

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