THE TESTAMENT OF MARY
by Colm Tóibín based on his novel.
Barbican Theatre Silk Street EC2Y 8DS To 25 May 2014.
Tue-Sat 7.45pm Sun, 3pm.
Audio-described 21 May.
Captioned 22 May 22.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
TICKETS: 0845 120 7550.
Review: Carole Woddis 7 May.
World-changing events make life-enhancing theatre.
It seems amazing that when The Testament of Mary was produced on Broadway it brought out a rash of demonstrators accusing the show of blasphemy. It’s hard to see quite how anyone could come to that conclusion from this transfiguring theatrical solo. Except, of course, to suggest that Mary and the Son of God might have come from mortal stock is perhaps too provocative a suggestion for American Christian evangelism. Perhaps, too, Tóibín’s desperately sad final refrain where Mary concludes that for all the pain, “it wasn’t worth it,” is enough also to raise the hackles of ardent believers.
Tóibín’s meaning is typically ambivalent and opaque. Mary’s pain watching her son die a terrible death on the cross? Jesus’ pain suffering the sins of the world for our sakes? or more to the point, human kind itself not being worth the sacrifice?
Whichever side you care to fall in the argument, there’s no doubting the magnificence of this, a celebration of a quarter century of creative collaboration. It may the finest thing Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner have done together, at once a spectacle and extraordinarily intimate, even within the Barbican Theatre’s immense surroundings.
Warner initially creates Shaw as a Virgin Mary installation on-stage, dressed in blue hood as in Renaissance paintings, surrounded by `props’ including a live vulture, the significance of which will steadily become apparent.
Everything about Testament is masterly handcrafted, performer to the text, scenography to the moment with Shaw in breathtaking command, savouring every morsel of Tóibín’s beautifully rendered and sardonic re-imagining of Mary as a modern mother, gossipy, chatty, maternal, watching events take their inevitable awful course.
Nobody but a Catholic could have reconfigured the story with so much love and defiance.
Mary, being told that the writing down of the events will change the world, queries “All of it?”, going on to declare in ringing tones that her memory will insist on remembering everything with “the cold clarity of day.”
Rationalism triumphant, it’s a brave, thrilling assertion and as performed by Shaw and mediated via Warner, as brave and thrilling a theatrical experience as we’re likely to have this or any year.
Performer: Fiona Shaw.
Director: Deborah Warner.
Designer: Tom Pye.
Costume: Ann Roth.
Lighting: Jennifer Tipton.
Sound/Music: Mel Mercier.
Associate designer: Ben Gerlis.
Assistant lighting: Trui Malteri
Associate sound: Richard Moores.
Presented by the Barbican.
World premiere of this production at the Walter Kerr Theatre New York,22 April 2013.
Originally produced on Broadway by Scott Rudin, Stuart Thompson, John B. Platt, Roger Berlind, Broadway Across America, Scott M. Delman, Jean Doumanian, Roy Furman, Stephanie P. McClelland, Sonia Friedman Productions, Tulchin/Bartner Productions, The Araca Group, Heni Koenigsberg, Daryl Roth, Eli Bush.
Developed by Dublin Theatre Festival and Landmark Productions with the support of Irish Theatre Trust.