Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Theatre review: Mary Rose

A couple of years ago J.M. Barrie's Quality Street turned out to be a forgotten gem. Now his odd little ghost story Mary Rose receives a revival, but though not without its moments, proves to be no lost classic. In the 1880s, when she was 11 years old, Mary Rose disappeared on a tiny Hebridean island. About a month later the girl reappeared, unaware that any time had passed. Her parents keep the mystery from her, a secret that could have tragic consequences now Mary Rose (Jessie Cave) is 17 and preparing to get married. The story is bookended by scenes set in 1919 when a young man (Charlie Kerson) returns from Australia to the now-derelict house where she lived, now rumoured to be haunted.

It's hard not to make Peter Pan comparisons in the story of a lost girl who goes away to a happy magical world and doesn't seem to age. But Mary Rose's Neverland, like the play itself, is more nebulous. Matthew Parker's production uses an ensemble of spirits (including Greg Airey from last year's gay panto - sadly not sitting on my knee this time; fellow ghostly chorus members Scott Ellis and Noah Young are also cute) to add atmosphere to a story that actually keeps its spooky scenes to a disappointing minimum. In fact Barrie's play is a bit of a hodge-podge of different stories that don't quite gel together or come to any satisfactory conclusions.

At times the production is a bit too sluggish for a play that's already got quite a lot of padding. Comic scenes featuring Mary Rose's parents go on too long and serve little real purpose: Presumably they're meant to show the family moving on after bereavement but Nicholas Hoad, Maggie Robson and Alec Gray aren't lively enough to make them work. I also found Carsten Hayes as Mary Rose's husband rather stilted, though Cave is suitably otherworldly as the titular child-woman and Phil Bishop likeable as a Scottish parson. Cherry Truluck's set also tries hard to add a chill to the atmosphere but it's not really consistently there in the play itself. Parker's production is inventive and interesting but flawed, and can't make up for the play's unfinished feel.

Mary Rose by J.M. Barrie is booking until the 28th of April at Riverside Studio 3.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

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