March 21st, 2007


Barrie's Mary Rose

Tonight, we went to see Mary Rose, J.M. Barrie's last play.

It's not a great play. It never was a great play, and it has dated sadly. Sightly fey child-women (remember Elfine in Cold Comfort Farm?) aren't generally perceived as attractive and mysterious any more. Clergymen aren't automatically comic (in fact, rather the opposite), and dewey-eyed, misty sentimentality is not exactly a fashionable emotion. Also, the dialogue is twee rather than profound, and full of British schoolboy slang and funny accents.

Still. It was fascinating to watch Barrie working over the same obsessions he was dealing with in Peter Pan. Mary Rose is "called by the Island" twice, disappearing first for a few days when she is 10, then seemingly permanently when she's 21 and the mother of a 2 year old boy, coming back 25 years later, unaware that any time has passed at all since her husband and she went picnicking on "The Island That Likes To Be Visited." So there's an island, a girl who never grows old (she's very young for her age even at 18), and layers and layers of nostalgia for lost beauty and peace and happiness. The play was written after WWI, and is haunted not only by Mary Rose, but by all the young men of two generations who never got the chance to grow old and deaf and stiff, like Mary Rose's parents.

Which made it a particular pity that the man playing Mary Rose's boy-husband was 30 if he was a day, and Mary Rose herself was not exactly the tenderest of spring pullets. Also, her acting was, well, superficial. She bounced and pouted, but she made the mysticism that defines the character look more like indigestion than ineffable yearning. And her accent skated madly between High British and Low Southern Californian.

I'm glad I saw it, though. They don't write plays like that any more. They put them on TV and into movies instead. And frankly? I like live theatre.