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The Testament of Mary
Playwright: Colm Toibin
Director: Lynne Maree
Performer: Patricia Boyer
Production design: Wilhelm Disbergen
VENUE: The Joburg Theatre, Space.com
It’s interesting and perhaps not surprising to note that a few staunch Christians have come forward to protest against the staging of this play. It’s a take on one of the most popular stories in human history.
And if you’re coming in with this knowledge and encountering the text for the first time, you keep anticipating any sensation that may arouse conflict. But it never comes.
Even Mary (Patricia Boyer, pictured) can’t bring herself to call her son by his name in the play, and this subtlety explains the tone of the production. There’s a sense of care that comes with the script.
The one-woman show is provocative in that it tackles a sensitive narrative, the content of which forms part of some people’s belief system, so either way it will probably always get a reaction out of ignorance or passion.
But this reimagination does not seek to criticise; instead it portrays poetic licence from an interesting vantage point: a mother’s point of view, and a mother trying to protect her son.
In this way it personalises and humanises what has been told so many times and makes tangible and real what has become somewhat mythological in its repetition.
Where a play like The Mountaintop uses magic surrealism to retell a historical tale, The Testament of Mary goes for realism.
And it is Yellow Bunny Productions that has produced the two shows, together with the compelling Kiss of the Spiderwoman in 2011.
The latter and The Testament of Mary, directed by Lynne Maree, are not easy in that they deal with controversial subjects. But as bold as this team are in their theme choices, they have proved to be sensible in delivery.
You never get a sense that Maree over-thinks her approach. She works consistently with a poetic sensibility that makes her work brim with integrity.
And here it is the storytelling quality that shines. The beauty of the text is so apparent in the vivid images it conjures, the hints of dark humour and the subtexts it examines. It is subversive but not reckless in its intention, which makes it quite intelligent. This, coupled with Boyer’s vigourous Mary, makes for engaging theatre. Boyer is a tour de force and it’s intriguing to watch her in action.
And for the words and the nuances to stick, the intimate setting of the Space.com and the warmth of the set are essential.
This is daring theatre, revolutionary not for the sake of being revolutionary, but whose splendour leaves a lasting impression on the audience.