The Testament of Mary
By Colm Tóibín
Director: Imara Savage
The Testament of Mary is definitely at the ‘intense’ end of the spectrum, which indicates a lot when you consider the theatre pieces presented by Sydney Theatre Company.
To set the scene … Imagine you are a mother who has witnessed an unspeakably barbaric execution of your son for his participation in a war/cause; a cause about which you were never convinced, nor about the motives of its supporters. Imagine your heartbreak, rage and pain on watching your child being torn to pieces by whips, thorns, nails and spears.
Now imagine that you are also being ‘protected’ in a house where your hosts, those men who were involved in this cause and supporters of your son, are ensuring that they get ‘your’ testament of the event of your son’s death, albeit in a version that must satisfy them.
I’ve pretty much delivered the tension of this play and I believe your imagination will allow you to understand the extremity of emotions Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary reveals.
The Testament of Mary is presented as a monologue by Mary (played by Alison Whyte). The audience is first presented with a stage that reveals what looks to be a life sized icon of Our Lady; heart on one breast, with the other naked breast suckling a lamb. She is bedecked in a glittering robe and halo, and surrounded by candles. We watch as this icon comes alive, throwing off the shackles of an enforced deification.
Clever lighting (by lighting designer Emma Valente and stage designer Elizabeth Gadsby) propels the work from one revelation to another … the woman’s longing for her husband Joseph, her physical shock at being made witness the horrors of the crucifixion, the raw pain of her memories, her unqualified disgust when she is told how the conception of her son is being recorded for prosperity.
On the edge of your seat for this woman’s heartbroken rage you will be gripped with a myriad of emotions. When Mary asks ‘was it worth it?’ you completely empathise with her howled ‘No’.
Mel Gibson’s film Passion of Christ (2004) was visceral in depicting the mythologised trip of Christ to his death, scourged by leather covered with sharp objects to rip his skin, crowned by thorns, shackled and carrying a cross to which he would be nailed through his hands and feet, knees broken, side pierced by a spear. He brought to the stylized tale a reality that made us realise the monstrous barbarity of a story many of us learnt in primary school; the blood sacrifice of a young man for a political/cultural purposes.
Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary presents us with this barbarism as seen through the eyes of a mother. It is a shift in perspective that makes us acknowledge a similar horror to our reaction to Gibson’s The Passion of Christ, in this production by contrast the horror is presented through the framework of language that burn’s with emotion.
Sydney Theatre Company
13 Jan — 25 Feb 2017