debbie tucker green’s play (she prefers her name to be in lower case), Stoning Mary, was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in April 2005. It is a short play with a lot of impact as it deals independently with three disturbing stories, set in a world at war, that are eventually brought together in the final scene. One involves a couple with Aids who can only afford a single life-saving prescription. This convention reminds us of the conflict which can arise over scarce resources.
The second story involves two parents constantly arguing about whose fault it is that their son is a child soldier. The playwright cleverly provides an ongoing narrative in an ‘inner voice’ style by having their egos represented on stage by two additional actors. The final couple are two sisters, one of whom, Mary, is in prison waiting to be stoned to death for killing a child.
The proposition offered by the writer seems to be that you can shock and create a sense of dislocation by transferring Third World issues to a more familiar setting in our own country, hence the play is normally cast with all white actors. Therefore, the presence of one black actor in this version was an interesting choice.
The plot does not follow a conventional structure or provide naturalistic dialogue, this must have been a challenge for both director and actors. The repetition, overtalking and numerous interruptions would have required diligent rehearsal, but were extremely well handled by all the actors.
This was a strong ensemble cast who worked very well together, but there were particularly good performances from Jake Draper as Husband/Boyfriend, who brought a lot of convincing realism to his performance, and Gabriela Chanova as Older Sister. She skillfully managed to bring the difficult dialogue “off the page,” adding light and shade to the monologues with accomplished use of pauses. Elliot Cox as Child Soldier, although having few lines, was extremely menacing, bringing a sense of The Grim Reaper to the scenes he was in. Unfortunately, there was a problem with audibility at times, as some actors were too quiet. Diction might also have been clearer on occasions, especially in the scenes involving heightened emotion where the dialogue had to be delivered very quickly.
The Director, Kwame Owusu, obviously had a clear vision of the dystopian landscape which forms the backdrop to the piece. His design was stark and almost entirely grey, with just a symbolic door and a window. Good use was made of the platform for many of the announcements, it also added a more three- dimensional aspect, whilst the floor was covered in gravel. There were just a few bricks dotted about which added to the feeling of desolation and conjured up the sense of a world at war.
I would have liked to have seen some of those bricks used during the climax of the play, along with a sound effect to enhance the moment, and add drama.
The multiple scene changes were very efficiently handled by the crew, so that we moved smoothly from one scenario to the other. The subdued lighting and melancholic music employed keep the audience immersed in the performance.
The costumes and make-up were entirely appropriate, and the costume changes helped to indicate the passage of time. The copycat costumes for the character’s egos cleverly helped the audience gain early access to the convention being used by the writer.
This play is demanding and not an easy watch, due to its dark themes, unconventional structure and chaotic dialogue, so it is a testament to this very talented company that I was engrossed throughout. If you want to have an intellectually challenging and thought-provoking evening, this is a play for you. You will probably find yourself discussing it in the pub afterwards as I did with my companion – the gift that keeps on giving!