Mary’s Seacoal by Jackie Sibblies Drury. The Donmar, 42 Earlham Street, London WC2 to 4 June 2022. 3***. William Russell

Kayla Meikle as the Jamaican Scots nurse who is one of the great figures of 19th century nursing gives a majestic and endearing performance which rescues this complicated and muddled play from potential disaster. You watch because she is spellbinding as we are taken through a series of scenes involving nurses in a present day hospital, in a care home where the old woman in the bed has soiled herself to the horror of her visiting daughter and grandchild with which the nurses cope bravely, to an exercise dealing with a terrorist attack, hilarious and terrifying at the same time, and in the end to the Crimea where Mary went to receive a chilly welcome from Miss Nightingale played in the crinoline to end all crinolines by Olivia Williams who is intent on erasing this coloured woman from her story. The title Mary’s Seacoal is most peculiar as what we get are lots of lets say Marys who follow in her footsteps so that apostrophe is disturbing. What it is not is a life of Mary Seacoal although at the end after the horrors of the Crimea her grandmother is conjured up in a dream to deliver the play’s message which Llewella Gideon does magnificently. The message is summed up as “Them need us but tem nah want us.” It could hardly be more topical given the plight of the National Health Service and the Care services and while you laugh some of it is no laughing matter and a cause for tears.
Mary: Kayla Meikle
Deja J. Bowens, Llewella Gideon, Esther Smith, Olivia Williams, Susan Wooldridge.
Director: Nadia Latif
Designer: Tom Scutt.
Lighting Designer: Jessica hung Han Yun.
Sound Designer & Composer: Kana.
Movement Director: Theo T J Lowe.
Voice & Dialect Coach: Hazel Holder.
Production Photography:Marc Brenner.

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