Testament of Mary – reviews of ‘masterful’ Toibin adaptation

May 12, 2014

Critics praise Fiona Shaw’s ‘shatteringly brilliant’ Mary in stage adaptation of Colm Toibin novel

Hugo Glendinning

What you need to know 

A stage adaptation of Colm Toibin’s novel The Testament of Mary, has opened at the Barbican, London. The production, starring Fiona Shaw and directed by Deborah Warner, was nominated for a Tony Award after its Broadway run last year.

Shaw appears as Mary, who is prompted by two disciples to retell the story of Jesus’s last days leading up to his crucifixion and her own subsequent escape to Ephesus. Runs until 25 May. 

What the critics like

This “fascinating” show for believers and non-believers alike renders real the events of the Gospel while questioning the influence of the divine in “a masterful balancing act”, says Dominic Maxwell in The Times. The brilliant Shaw, full of grief and mordant wit, compels throughout.

Fiona Shaw is “shatteringly brilliant” in Warner’s vivid, piercingly felt production, says Paul Taylor in The Independent. Her performance astonishes with its soul-baring intensity, comically incandescent contempt, vulnerability and grief.

“Toibin’s skill lies in imagining Mary’s embittered perplexity without shutting the door on the story’s miraculous element,” says Michael Billington in The Guardian. The production, and Shaw’s extraordinary performance, rescues Mary from mummified devotion, and raises profound questions about the sacrifices involved in belief.

What they don’t like 
It seems Warner has over-indulged her long-time collaborator Shaw a little, and “much would be gained from less”, says Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard. Instead, Shaw is a “whirlwind of over-emphasis, of umpteen reshuffles of clothing and trips across the stage”.

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