Sunday, April 3, 2011


The Tasmanian Theatre Company
Ten Days on The Island Festival
Backspace Theatre, Hobart
From April 1st
By Gai Anderson

The true story of Lady Mary Montague, a strong, independent 18th century woman who bravely pioneered the vaccination of children against smallpox, is a certainly fascinating one. However I was greatly underwhelmed and frustrated by the Tasmanian Theatre Company’s production of Stella Kent’s play at the Backspace on Saturday night. For that strong and strident woman and her dramatic story were almost lost amongst the endless details of petty argument and gossip of a group of self indulgent and largely uninteresting characters.

Whilst Melissa King as Lady Mary and Guy Hooper as the ridiculous Colley Cibber gave fine performances, even they struggled to lift the story above the tedium of a boring costume drama, as the interesting action seemed always to be sidelined or glossed over.
So, Mary’s time in Constantinople, with the orphan children and her own child, as well as her championing of the radical medical procedure against the odds were only ever spoken about and never seen on stage. Meanwhile, the most unlikeable Alexander Pope and his relationship with Mary, dominate the first half of the story ad nauseum.

Perhaps it’s the nature of historical drama, with its basis in academic research, that leads the script to get lost in the details, and Director Jillian Keiley’s use of shadow puppetry silhouettes an inspired way of dealing with some of this material.

Similarly, the clever set-up of the play-within-a-play allowed for the development of a great comic character in Colley Cibber, who as a hack playwright and the “worst Poet Laureate ever appointed” was able to step in and out of the action, with wit, ridiculous flourishes and great melodrama.
The slowly drawn development of Cibbber’s deep and generous friendship with Lady Mary enacted with great subtlety by Hooper was the true highlight of the play.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations to playwright, cast and director of Poxed.

    The acting was superb by all four, but then they did have the lines to deliver. The Verfremdungseffekte worked brilliantly and were part of the magic way in which humour was juxtaposed with profundity. There was brilliant bathos that time and again was turned on its head as we laughed and cried and pondered the many profound themes: xenophobia, the stock exchange, sexism, fear of the public gaze, love, unrequited passion, the loss of female beauty, the frustration of having something vital to say to an audience that just doesn't want to listen.

    Don't get me started on the characterisation. Gai Anderson describes Colley Sibber as 'ridiculous' and as a 'great comic character'. He can't have been both. Colley's claim that he was a shallow man was undermined by the wise counsel he gave to Mary. Dear Mary the naive,unwitting heart breaker and the reluctant scientific heroine.

    Even Pope the (intellectual) dope had us feeling sorry for him when he outlined his small, crooked-back perspective on life. Handel came to life through his music and his compassion for the poor little Kinder. Raymonde, ze passionate French rogue, probably stands out as the one shallow character - after all he chooses for ducats instead of his darling.

    Rather than decide a priori that the play should have been about a certain historical story, I accepted the play for what it is; - an amusing, entertaining, thought-provoking exploration of several meaningful themes.

    I was happy to join in the rapturous applause.

    Posted by evert jansen at 10.04 AM


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