The Testament of Mary

19 Jan

Here are a few things to keep in mind while reading this review:

  1. The performance I saw was a preview.
  2. I paid for my ticket.
  3. I don’t write reviews.

Despite whatever nonsense you may have learnt in Sunday School, the Original Sin was the writing up of a preview performance.

But I claim Immaculate status – because of the above point 3. I’m not going to do the whole judgement thing. Anyone who’s had anything to do with Christianity is probably over the whole judgement thing. It’s all a little more complex than that.

And this production begins with an image that suggests that very idea; a statue of Mary becomes a living, breathing woman. She then tells us her version of events.

Her life has been dominated by her son, and considering his fate, she is understandably traumatized. Alison Whyte gives an engrossing performance.


Image by Lisa Tomasetti

Jesus is not presented as some great religious teacher or the Redeemer (but nor is he just a naughty boy.) Whatever vision he may have had, it is not shared by his mother. The evangelists who harass Mary for details of Jesus’ life are keen to aggrandize him, but according to his mother’s testimony, so was the man himself. The play offers many myths for reassessment, but perhaps the most universal of these myths is that of a mother’s uncritical devotion. This Mary suffers from a spiritual and imaginative exhaustion.

Her narrative focuses on only a few events: the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the wedding in Canaan, the crucifixion. She denies the Resurrection.

However, playwright Colm Tóibín allows Mary’s story some intriguing anomalies, preventing it from descending into a commonplace materialist attack on Christian theology. For example, Jesus is capable of miracles (though their value is ambiguous.) And, regarding the fate of the man, Mary and Lazarus’ sister oddly have exactly the same dream.

It is this dream that the evangelists wish to twist into the story of the Resurrection.

Mary says “They want what happened to live forever. What is being written down, they say, will change the world.”

So, in summary, Tóibín has made up a story about the evangelists making up a story.

Most audiences will feel Tóibín’s story is more likely, but only the naive will think he’s claiming it’s true.

The actual Original Sin is to expect stories to be true. If they are to be judged at all, it’s not in that way.

Paul Gilchrist


The Testament of Mary
By Colm Tóibín

Sydney Theatre Company
Directed by Imara Savage
Performed by Alison Whyte

Wharf 1
13 Jan — 25 Feb

Tix and info here

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