Review: Testament, Project Arts Centre
The Dublin Theatre Festival's compelling new play by Colm Toibin shows a mother's love straight from the heart
THE most famous mother of all finally gets to present her side of the story in this compelling new play by Colm Toibin. And she has quite the controversial tale to tell.
For the world premiere of this co-production between Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival and Landmark Productions, the pieces are in place for something special.
We are led through a peaty tunnel to enter the stage through a small door. Francis O'Connor's ascetic stage comprises wooden floorboards, clay pots, a writing desk, a wooden table and chair. It is all shadows and shade with a billowing ceiling that peels back to announce the arrival of our narrator, Mary, mother of Jesus.
She is being interrogated about Our Son, her son, the man whose name she cannot speak. But the inquisitors have left and she takes this opportunity to deliver her unembellished testament, the truth according to her and not the adoring disciples.
Her counter-narrative will force us to question accepted truths, to recognise them as one perspective among many. The Jesus she describes is not a man of unearthly powers. And she herself is most human, with human frailties, aware of the concessions she makes in the aim of self-preservation. For the most part, she is unyielding steel. She resents her son and what he has become. However, there are also times when she appears vulnerable. Her son has left her, her husband has left her and she is questioning everything, even her faith.
Directed by Garry Hynes, the dramatic tone is heightened and Toibin has provided Mary with a most distinctive voice that Marie Mullen brings to life with chilling intensity. His poetic prose is littered with lines that glitter like stars.
Although the ending is somewhat overwritten and Mullen's physicality on stage doesn't always work, particularly when she stamps across stage to convey scene or verse changes, Mullen's consummate performance makes for a most successful marriage with Toibin's writings. A mother's loss is not compensated by the salvation of the world.
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