Testament at the P.A.C.

October 24, 2013


The biggest pot hole in the well worn road that is the mounting of a one person show(there’s been 23 of them since September alone) is the tendency for it to become recitational. Yet rather than shy away from it Garry Hynes’ staging of Testament for Landmark Productions, embraces an orational style to instruct the audience on how to listen to the tale of Marie Mullins unnamed yet instantly recognisable mater.

Author Colm Tobin has woven the maternal relationship into his work as a novelist and short story teller before-most notably in his collection Mothers & Sons, and by imbuing the most famous mother of all with the same characteristics found in his past creations-hardened, sharp and resentful- he shows another side to a figure more noted for smiling benignly as snakes wrap round her feet.

There are snakes here as well. The group of misfits who gathered around her son have found, creating his legacy, what was missing in themselves and have set about bending her to their will, creating the gospels that are to shape mankind forever more. So she tells us her side of the story so that ‘the truth will be spoken, at least once’.

Marie Mullin’s sardonic sermon rings every drop of fear and fury from the text while retaining an air of detachment as Francis O’Connor’s cottaged set and Peter Mumford’s lighting meld the familiar with the foreign, as is done in the script, to paradoxically put the audience at ease yet also on edge.

Revolution is in the air. Society is breaking down. And- as the swell of insurgency ripples throughout Jerusalem, Tobin uses Mullin’s mother to cast a suspicious glance across the cabal, allowing her just the right amount of awe and abhorrence so as to not become contemptuous.

The piece is twenty minutes too long. The ending in particular feels over written and doesn’t hold us as in thrall with the beauty of its language. It doesn’t help that Hyne’s and Mullins treat the text as a withdrawn harangue, which works with its conceit as an alternate gospel but needed more fire and devastation for its conclusion to have an impact.

But as a piece of writing, and a piece of theatre, it’s a beautiful character study, that probes and provokes, drawing parallels between the world that was and the world that is without ever enforcing anything on us that feels false or labored. By tapping into real and empathic human emotions and glazing them onto a religous icon Tobin makes us present and involved in the greatest story ever told, increasing our understanding by changing our vantage point.

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