Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: This is Mary Brown, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Sally Stott
“There was a tree,” says Winsome Brown at the beginning of her one-woman autobiographical play, in which she gives a warm and funny insight into her relationship with her mother and other family members, single-handedly bringing together the many branches of her Irish heritage. At its heart, it’s a powerful tribute to Mary, the woman who gave birth to and cared for her as a child and who she in turn cares for, as an adult, when she is diagnosed with lung cancer.
A beautifully constructed piece of writing, it juxtaposes the occasions Winsome and her siblings were ill as children with Mary’s final moments in a way that vividly portrays their changing roles, as one generation takes over from another. The tragedy but mainly the hope that underlines this fundamental part of being human is delicately conveyed, but it’s also a piece that has a lot of humour. Mary laments that she used to look like Julie Christie, but now gets mistaken for Vanessa Redgrave – and yet defiantly refuses to give up her beloved cigarettes. Meanwhile, the banalities of day-to-day life continue elsewhere, simultaneously amusing and sad.
As it becomes increasingly apparent that Mary is going to die, the resilience and dignity with which she and Winsome deal with this is beautifully conveyed, not only through the quiet pragmatism of the script, but the way our narrator directly addressed us with such strength and poise.
Irish folk songs, accompanied by acoustic guitar, capture the spirit of a family that – however far apart they live (Toronto, or elsewhere) – always have time for “good friends coming over and a chat”. While it’s a piece that centres on a personal tragedy, it’s the sense of the continuation of life, and all that’s inspiring about this, that it captures so well.
Paradise in The Vault (Venue 29), run ended
Published in The Scotsman on 29 August 2015
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