‘It started with Hitchcock,’ says Nick Bone, artistic director of Magnetic North. ‘I had read an interview with Hitchcock and was intrigued by this play that had fascinated him. And I had a very strange reaction to it when I read it.’
The play in question is Mary Rose, written by famous Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. Written late in the playwright’s life, it tells the tale of a young woman who mysteriously vanishes from a secluded island twice in her life with no explanation. She returns both times without signs of aging and with no memory of having ever been gone.
It’s a challenging work that is hardly ever done, with only the occasional production every so often. Director Alfred Hitchcock, a major fan of the play, had wanted to turn it into a film but never managed to do so.
Bone thinks he knows why it’s seldom seen on stage. ‘I felt that if I’d gone to see it [in modern times], I wouldn’t buy into the mystery. It’s set up like a ghost story but it doesn’t work like a ghost story.’ He also finds fault with Barrie’s female protagonist, calling her a middle-aged man’s fantasy and odd. ‘There’s an innocence in what he’s trying to capture, but I found that he didn’t quite find a way of getting that across.’
As a solution, Bone proposed to create a brand new play, one that would honour Barrie’s characters and plot but would resonate with a modern audience. He met playwright D. Jones and gave her a copy of the play to read.
‘We both felt there was something disturbing in it and darkly imaginative that we wanted to develop, staying true to Barrie’s themes of grief, loss and disappearance,’ says Jones. Speaking about the writing process, Jones says ‘I struggled early on with wanting to stay true to Barrie but at the same time wanting to make the script our own.’ In speaking about her script, Jones says that there is a resemblance in setting and structure but that the characters are emotionally richer, an aspect she found lacking in Barrie’s script. ‘I think the end result is that we have hopefully done something original.’
This end result is the new play, After Mary Rose. The play still follows the rules set forth in Barrie’s original and follows two stories, that of Rose’s disappearances and the parallel story of her son Harry’s quest for understanding. In speaking about the duality, Bone says, ‘Mary represents mystery and things that cannot be explained, while Harry’s journey is one of explanation.’ There are also parallels to the regrettable loss that comes with war; Mary’s disappearance occurs at the end of the First World War whereas Harry’s story takes place after the Second.
In speaking about the upcoming production, playwright Jones said she now realises that, ‘We had really set ourselves a big challenge’ but remains convinced that ‘there is still something darkly emotional and moving in this play that has a timeless quality and will translate to a contemporary world.’
Originally published in The Skinny.
After Mary Rose tours throughout April and May 2009. For details follow the link here.
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