THEATRE Theatre Reviews Stoning Mary Royal Court London UK REVIEWS

Stoning Mary

Jerwood Theatre Downstairs
Royal Court Theatre
London
ENGLAND

Throwing Stones

Debbie Tucker Green's searing new play 'Stoning Mary' picks apart our Western attitudes towards human atrocities. Her play focuses on three modern horrors and how they affect everyday people. Scenes entitled 'The AIDS Genocide' show the dilemmas faced by a husband and wife (Peter Sullivan and Emily Joyce) who are both infected with HIV, but can only afford one prescription between them for life-saving medication. Scenes titled 'The Child Soldier' depict an older couple (Ruth Sheen and Alan Williams) whose son (Cole Edwards) was stolen from them. He has returned to them, but is now a brutalised child soldier, which they struggle to come to terms with. Scenes titled 'Stoning Mary' show Mary (Claire-Louise Cordwell), a young woman awaiting public execution, being visited in prison by her older sister (Claire Rushbrook).

Tucker Green's twist is that all the characters in her play are deliberately white and speak with cockney accents. This forces the audience to recognise that they can sympathise for the characters onstage as they are British, but when these events are shown on the news happening in real life in Africa or Asia, they may feel very little at all.

Tucker Green writes in a rhythmic working-class London vernacular. The characters speak in short punchy sentences and Marianne Elliott's direction ensures their delivery is very rapid. No meaning is lost however, as the characters speak in such a way that they often repeat their points over and over. These repetitions aren't excessive, but highlight how these humanitarian tragedies are so awful that everyday people are totally unable to escape them. No solution is available to these characters, so they can only repeat their problems over and over.

All the performers are very strong and give believable human faces to complex issues like the African AIDS epidemic. Claire-Louise Cordwell's performance as Mary is striking and heartrending. As she awaits her execution, Cordwell shows her character growing from a meek girl to a woman, voicing her outrage at a public who condone such injustices.

The designer (Ultz) has transformed the theatre space. It is entirely bare. The proscenium arch has been removed, nothing masks the wings and backstage areas, so even the fly ropes are visible. The only things onstage are a few chairs. The stage has been extended out over the stalls to as far back as where the dress circle overhangs. The front edge of the stage curves around in a semi-circle, meeting the edge of the dress circle. The space almost looks like one half of a Roman Coliseum. What remains of the stalls area is standing room and the only audience seating is in the circles. When the actors stand downstage, the semi-circle of the audience, looking down on them from a few feet above, surrounds them. Placing the audience in this way makes them feel almost complicit in what happens onstage below.

Some people go to the theatre to enjoy a little escapism and to be entertained. Other people go to the theatre because it is an art form that looks at the way we live. If you are in the second category, you will enjoy this play. It is not a perfect play, it has many flaws; for instance, some scenes are over-long. Despite that, it raises such important and pertinent questions that it demands to be seen. © RW

“Stoning Mary” is at Royal Court Theatre from the 1st until the 23rd of April, 2005.

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