The current production of The Testament of Mary from the Sydney Theatre Company stars Alison Whyte. She delivers an empathetic portrayal of the mother of Jesus, previously silent, sharing her pain and despair over her son’s death.
Having read Colm Toibin’s book, and written on the elements of Voice and Perspective, I felt emotionally prepared for this performance. However, the palpable tension and evocative production were deeply moving. The opening sequence was riveting: from a black stage to candles slowly growing bright, a traditional niche reveals a majestically clad figure.
Mimicking the pose of an iconic statue, Mary gradually disrobes – fake hands are tossed away, the cradled lamb is dropped, blue sparkling robe and red lace dress removed, sacred heart torn from flesh and discarded, flowing red wig is stripped away, mask is peeled from her face. We are left with a representation of woman and mother, no longer deified, yet much more worthy of respect.
Sharp shifts in lighting – in turns black or lowly lit – allows Mary to inhabit different spaces and stances on the stage to mirror a full range of emotions: rage, pity, fear, disbelief and love. Interestingly, The Testament of Mary humanises a distant figure, yet the ‘hands’ of Mary maintain easily recognised and conventional poses.
The crisp dialogue has prompted me to re-read The Testament of Mary sometime soon.