After Mary Rose ***

After Mary Rose is a new play based on an older one.  It takes its cue from JM Barrie’s play Mary Rose, which is about a woman who mysteriously disappears from an island twice in her life, first as a child and then later as an adult.  When she returns both times, she has no notion of having been gone and shows no sign of aging.

After Mary Rose tells the same story and uses most of the same characters but gives much more focus to Mary’s son, Harry.  Unlike Barrie’s original, which used Harry more as a bookend to the main dramatic action, this production gives a lot more time to his quest for understanding the mystery of his mother, juxtaposing psychiatric sessions along with his mother’s story.

There are many successful aspects to the production itself.  It looks great, both in staging and design, and it contains six good performances.  And yet, it is not an overly successful whole.

The biggest problem with the production is D. Jones’s adaptation.  She makes some nice changes and clever additions, but most of the play feels more like a summary of the old play rather than a brand new play in itself.  She uses far more of Barrie’s play than is warranted; only the biggest expert on Barrie’s writing would be able to completely separate Barrie’s work from Jones’s.

This play’s greatest moments come when Jones leaves the original and allows the characters to speak with fresh voices.  It’s a shame that this happens occasionally rather than frequently because Jones’s original work promises a far greater and more interesting play than the one being produced, making this feel more like a companion piece.  Barrie’s play has some major dramatic flaws that Jones does not solve in her new version, resulting in a play that is as problematic.

Director Nicholas Bone is much more successful with his work.  The original is infamous for being a rather moody and atmospheric piece, and here Bone is quite successful, for it is a production filled with wonderful touches of directional atmosphere.  He makes some rather startling images through his actors and designers, some of which leave rather lasting impressions.  It is a brave production that looks, feels and sounds great.

After Mary Rose has many admirable qualities and has many effective theatrical moments.  However, for a play that is centred on a troublesome ghost, it seems rather ironic that this new play’s greatest fault is that it is haunted by the original.

Originally published at Onstage Scotland.

Touring throughout April and May 2009.  For information, look at Magnetic North’s website here.

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