In the claustrophobic black space, hemmed in on all sides by the audience, three apparently unrelated couples play out their own private battles; a husband and wife with AIDS fight over a single life-saving prescription, a mother and father’s relationship slowly deteriorates as they argue over their missing child-soldier son, and the eponymous Mary and her sister spit words at each other in the meeting room of a prison where Mary waits to be stoned to death for killing her parents’ murderer. By the end of the play, each of these apparently separate strands will have been brought together to show their ultimately tragic connection.
These are all stories that that will be familiar to the audience from newspaper articles about third-world countries. However, Debbie Tucker Green’s instructions concerning her characters are clear: all should be white, and the play should be set wherever it is performed, bringing this distant action straight into a familiar modern sphere.
The simple costumes set the characters immediately in our own space and time, so that they could have just walked in from the street. The script itself however, places the actors in an only half-recognised world.
Tucker Green’s script is highly demanding, elliptical and almost poetic, with lines repeated and spoken over each other, and nothing ever quite explained. The actors deal well with this, and bring to the often singular, obscure words a greater depth, and a fierce energy. The quick-fire dialogue is woven by a skilled ensemble group – each couple has a truly believable dynamic relationship. Whilst the choice of east-end accents lends the play a grittiness it needs, they are a predictable choice and sometimes slip. It might have been more interesting to see the same scenarios played out in clear cut Oxonian vowels.
The endless arguing and the elongated silences can feel a bit frustrating and drawn out at times, although, having said this, there are powerful moments that stand out suddenly from the rest. The Mother and Father scenes – Evie Jackson and Tim Kiely – are intensely performed and the closely interwoven lines bubble over each other with real emotion. The slowly burning dynamism of the couple backing away from a silent, machete-wielding child is another point where speech and action come together brilliantly. At other times, and despite the efforts of a skilled cast to create movement and action, the script overtakes them, and can feel like a performed poem.
All in all, the play is well performed and the tense acting and controlled setting combine to create a thought-provoking production.
Stoning Mary is at St. John’s Auditorium, 5-6 March, 7.30pm