Sunday 21 August 1994

My Body My Blood, by Margaret Kirby, 21 Aug 1994


At Chapter House St. Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Mon-Sat 7.30 pm until Sept 10, 1994

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 21 Aug 1994

This review was published in the Melbourne Times after 21 Aug 1994


Margaret Kirby's new play, My Body My Blood, , directed by Marcia Ferguson, investigates the attitude of the Anglican Church to women in religious roles, a profoundly emotional area of debate still raging in the church and the women's movement. A quote in the play from an ancient order of nuns, tells the story clearly. "Did they make it hard for you too? Did you fight? Were you strong?"


Mary (Tammy McCarthy) is deeply affected by the death of her friend and mentor Beatrice (Brenda Palmer), a deaconess desperate for the church to recognise her "priestliness". Mary questions her own relationships with church and family. Flashbacks draw parallels with 17th century women battling male prejudice, accusations of witchery, and denial of their healing skills.


The acoustics are appalling but generally actors dealt with the problem. There were some glorious solo, choral and canon singing which established the poignant, melancholy flavour of a mind in religious turmoil. I wanted more. The script screams for atmosphere.


This is not a serious and self-important script, although at times it lapses into religious polemic. It is peppered with funny observations about character, religion, gender and power. Sliced white bread and cooking sherry are used for an improvised communion and the absurdity of the whole gender argument is highlighted when an early Christian bishop simply changes "Julia" to "Julius" when confronted with a woman apostle in the Bible.


The ensemble is strong but the fraught verbal battles between two sisters, Mary and Martha, were the highlights for me. McCarthy is suitably addled and passionate as the heavily pregnant and religiously questing Mary but my accolades are saved for Maud Davy who is warm, eccentric and scintillating as her prim and subservient sister, Martha.


Scene changes to 17th century England are confusing and slow, which seems to be a production rather than a script problem. It needs clearer shifts in accent, space, lighting; something to give substance and clarity to the flashbacks.


The choice to perform in the woody, candle-lit interior of the Chapter House at St. Paul's Cathedral was inspired. The action has as a backdrop, enormous and imposing (in both senses of the word) portraits of Anglican bishops and audience trails upstairs past doors adorned with the nameplates of exclusively male clerics. Unfortunately, the stage design clashes radically with this environment.


Kate Herbert

Wednesday 10 August 1994

Falling From Grace by Hannie Rayson, Playbox, 10 Aug 1994


At Playbox Merlin Theatre until August 27, 1994 then touring.

Reviewer: Kate Herbert around 10 Aug 1994

This review was published in the Melbourne Times after 10 Aug 1994


Professional women's conversations meander from gossip to international politics, corporate work issues to romantic disasters - all in a nano-second; confusing for outsiders, namely men.  


Falling From Grace, Hannie Rayson's new play for Playbox, is uncannily accurate in representing the worlds of four modern women fighting forty who have busy, successful, complicated, often fraught professional and personal lives. The characters are never predictable but heck, are they familiar!


The narrative interweaves numerous threads. Central is the long-standing friendship between Suzannah (Catherine Wilkin), the editor of a smart monthly magazine and her two soul mates. The fiercely loyal Maggie (a difficult "go-between" role played warmly by Deirdre Rubenstein) and Brock (a feisty Diane Smith), a committed and pregnant journalist who shirtfronts the world.


A medical research project, led by a respected gynaecologist, Miriam Roth, (played with majesty by Belinda Davey) comes under fire from Suzannah's wet and guilt-mongering ex-husband (Sean Scully) and the magazine is faced with ruining a woman's career if they print a profile on Miriam and her research.


Performances are, without exception, extraordinarily skilful. Roger Oakey makes a meal of his role as Michael: lawyer, lover and "loyal but unfaithful" husband. Wilkin bounds from scene to scene in an emotional and moral mine field with her detailed and prismatic portrayal of Suzannah.


There is more, much more to the story. Secrets, loyalties, prejudices, deceptions all elucidate the dilemma, "To print or not to print". Each character's moral position is discoloured by his or her personal relationships. Everybody acts irresponsibly, childishly and selfishly at some point, but the major issue is the degree of trust women place in their friends and the damage a breach of faith can cause.


The brief scenes require frequent set changes which, thanks to Trina Parker's light, effective design and Aubrey Mellor's brisk and economical direction, move efficiently.


Dialogue is astringent, witty and economical. Some longer, more didactic speeches slowed the action but raised moral and ethical points. The numerous plot threads took some time to resolve in a longish second act but Falling from Grace maintains the tenor of warmth and honesty which permeates Rayson's writing. She is a jewel in our crown, a Victorian State treasure.