Wednesday September 26, 2018


November 14 2017

THE TESTAMENT OF MARY, Malthouse Theatre, 3-26 November 2017. Photography by Pia Johnson: Pamela Rabe 

Written by Colm Toibin, The Testament of Mary gives us ultimately a mother’s mourning the death of her son as told to two unnamed visitors scribing for the gospel sometime after the crucifixion. In the telling of her story she never refers to her son as Jesus, it is always “my son”. She doesn’t give the scribes what they want as she talks of her ambivalence and dislike of her son’s followers – the misfits, “fools, twitchers, malcontents and stammerers”.

Set in a glassed monastic four-roomed sparsely decorated abode – with chairs you would see in an office throw-out and a perfunctory table, Mary moves quietly from room to room seemingly under house arrest as she tells her side of the story.

Pamela Rabe as Mary, in an hour and half monologue, is both tortured and resigned in a very measured performance. You hear every word and feel every emotion.

In history Mary doesn’t get much screen time – just the mother of a remarkable son. Toibin looks at from the woman’s perspective and asks the questions of why was her son being treated as something different and great; of fair weather friends. Of the “woman” being in the background.


Mary gives a vivid blow by blow account of the procession and ultimate crucifixion – the mother is just another face in the crowd, she talks of the love she has for her son, his pain – not hers.

Toibin’s telling of the story is counter to the beliefs of the church – of course it is, it is through the eyes of a woman. As a Toibin fan, this for me, is not one of his best, but it does have a resonance that stays with you.

The words and the performance were compelling, however, I was less taken with the direction (Anne-Louise Sarks) and the set and lighting (Marg Horwell and Paul Jackson), feeling removed from what was happening. The audience on opening night was enraptured.



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