11 December 2011

Review: The Story of Mary Maclane By Herself

The Story of Mary Maclane By Herself
Malthouse Theatre and Ride on Theatre
1 December 2011
Beckett Theatre, The Malthouse
to 11 December

Mary Maclane would be the kind of Facebook friend you'd be tempted to block in case she tried to chat, but you couldn't do it because her bi-hourly updates about her cleverness and despair were too funny.

Born in 1881, teenage Maclane moved from Canada to New York and at 19 she'd sold over 100,000 copies of her first memoir, The Story of Mary Maclane. It was mostly read by young women, who also wanted to marry the Devil, and was criticised by those who were not. She continued writing, but worked in advertising as her dreams of literary fame were shattered as her subsequent works were not as popular.

When Bojana Novakovic discovered this writing, which wasn't republished until 1993, she fell a bit in love with a lost voice that wouldn't feel out of time were she were an angry young blogger in the fallout of instant fame. And as her company, Ride On Theatre, were the Malthouse company in residence, she and director Tanya Goldberg saddled up You Am I's Tim Rogers as Mary's gentleman musician and composer and harnessed Mary's passion.

The Story of Mary Maclane By Herself is fashioned from Maclane's writings and her musings are musically embellished by Rogers with Andy Baylor and Dan Witton in Anna Cordingly's lush saloon-bar-cum-empty-courtroom design.  Here Mary's pretence of self belief is immediately recogniseable, especially by anyone who also begs to understand why someone as clever and emotionally empathetic as they are cannot touch the happiness that stupid and ugly people find so easily.

Mary's appeal is her conceit of genius and Novakovic lets her be confident but approaches her with a compassion that makes her unlikeability likeable. And with a meta nod to the miserable genius of young artists, she even lets Mary finds her portrayer's diary. There was room for more blurring of character and actor, but it's doubtful that Mary would have allowed her creators such an indulgence.

Ride On Theatre refuse to be dull and have created a unique and compelling story that Maclane herself might even have found a moment of happiness in watching it.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

For bonus reading, please head to Cameron and Alison's wonderful discussion on Theatre Notes.

Photo by Jeff Busby.

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