Tag: Pamela Rabe

Malthouse Presents THE TESTAMENT OF MARY

Listening for a voice

By Bradley Storer

In the darkened corner of a modern apartment, a woman in blue is curled up weeping and clenching her fists. A stark blackout, and the same woman stands expressionless and walks into the kitchen to chop vegetables. With this bleak contrast of mourning and domesticity, The Testament of Mary begins to unfold the hidden story of the mother of God.

Testament of Mary.jpg

Colm Toibin’s script, adapted from his own novel of the same name, is certainly evocative, and the passages describing Mary following the trail of Jesus’ march to crucifixion, her vigil and eventual terrified flight from Golgotha are as heart-breaking as they are harrowing. While the aim of the play seems to be to break down our historical and religious pre-conceptions of Mary, in Testament she never emerges as enough of a fully-formed character to do this. In sections describing her situation years after the crucifixion, flashes of a full-blooded Mary emerges – in a poignant description of a chair left eternally empty waiting for its occupant to return, or in her bafflement in dealing with the outlandish declarations of her son’s former followers, we can see her humanity appearing. Once the play moves on to re-telling Jesus’ rise and subsequent downfall, however, Mary becomes a reactionary character with no agency to affect her own fate. She is simply shuffled around according to the actions and desires of other (mostly male) characters, whether it be her mysterious cousin Marcus or Jesus himself, but what Mary herself desires is very rarely evident.

Pamela Rabe works incredibly hard to form a character out of these materials, and the fact that Testament works at all as a dramatic piece can be credited entirely to her as a brilliant actor. The unrelenting darkness and bleakness of Toibin’s writing begins to feel almost monotone as the play goes on, which unfortunately the direction of Anne-Louise Sarks seems unable to combat. The contemporary apartment set by Marg Horwell and Paul Jackson – while maybe intended to divorce the story of its distant historical context – alas adds nothing to the overall meaning. Steve Toulmin’s compositions and sound design, while sometimes overused, add subtle poignancy and gravitas to several key moments.

The Testament of Mary is described as having the goal of ‘to examine how myths are made, and to question who has the power to tell them’ but never offers up a strong enough voice of its own or an alternative to accepted mythology. The key divergence from biblical text, that Jesus was not the son of God, doesn’t feel like enough of a dramatic twist to build the entire plot upon. For a play about the historical silencing of women and the narrative exclusion of the feminine viewpoint, The Testament of Mary feels oddly voiceless.

Dates: 3 – 26th November

Venue: Merlyn Theatre, The Malthouse, 113 Sturt St, Southbank VIC

Times: Tuesday 6:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Matinee Saturday 3pm, Sunday 5:30pm.

Prices: $35 – $69

Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au , boxoffice@malthousetheatre.com.au , Ph: 03 9685 5111

Image by Zan Wimberley


Beautiful reimagining of a classic

By Bradley Storer

The Glass Menagerie, the first great success of legendary American playwright Tennessee Williams, is a curious thing – not entirely a traditional naturalistic play nor an abstract lyrical Symbolist piece, it lives in the blurry division between fantasy, reality and memory. Director Eamon Flack emphasizes this essential ambiguity from the outset, as narrator Tom Wingfield (Luke Mullins) enters casually through the audience and seemingly begins to construct the play both physically and textually before our very eyes in his opening monologue.

The Glass Menagerie.jpg

The multifaceted set designed by Michael Hankin, the tiny Wingfield family apartment that unfolds in continually surprising ways, is surrounded by cameras (with video design by Sean Bacon) that project images onto near by screens as the play unfurls, creating delectable moments of intimacy with the characters and thrilling moments of theatrical ingenuity at the same time it theatricalizes and distances these moments as though we are seeing scenes from an old Hollywood picture – further suggesting the way Tom has shaped and crafted his memories until the line between his nostalgic remembrance and the reality has disappeared completely.

Mullins as Wingfield is remarkable, combining the soul of a poet with a bitter and sardonic twist of humour that one senses is the result of a sensitive spirit yearning for the freedom his home life denies him. Pamela Rabe as his mother Amanda, one of the great Southern belles of the Williams canon, gives a truly titanic performance, moving from a shrewd no-nonsense woman beaten down by the harsh realities of her life to the winsome love-struck girl of her youth with ease in the space of a single scene, creating a portrait of a woman burdened by both her massive maternal love and the seething resentment underneath. Rose Riley as Laura, Tom’s shy and disabled sister, brings a surprising and refreshing tom-boyishness to the role, and when her closed-off but scintillating face is projected in big screen, it is easy to see why Laura is the heart (and the central mystery) of this nostalgic play.

The first act is close to perfection, but the second act where the lives of the Wingfelds is interrupted by the visit of a gentleman caller (a jovial Harry Greenwood) seems to get a bit lost, and the final moments of the play fail to bring together the wide-ranging resources used throughout into a  satisfying conclusion. But when this production succeeds, which it often does, those moments are truly magical.

Venue: Malthouse Theatre, Merlyn Theatre, 113 Sturt St

Dates: 18th May – 5th June

Times: Tuesday 6:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday 7:30pm, Saturday 1pm, Sunday 5pm

Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au, (03) 9685 5111, boxoffice@malthousetheatre.com.au

Prices: Adult $65, Concession $50, Senior $60, Tertiary Student and Under 30’s $35

Image by Pia Johnson, Malthouse and Belvoir