SEIZING THE QUEST FOR LIFE LIVED TO THE FULL
TALKING OF KATHERINE MANSFIELD
Starring Catherine Downes
at Circa Two, Wellington
From 27 Feb 2013 to 16 Mar 2013
Reviewed by Laurie Atkinson, 1 Mar 2013
originally published in The Dominion Post
I seem to remember that Cathy Downes started her solo play, the acclaimed The Case for Katherine Mansfield, by standing on her head. As the title suggests she is not as athletic in Talking of Katherine Mansfield, but she is just as compelling as she was all those years ago.
Talking of Katherine Mansfield starts with Cathy Downes explaining how she came to write and perform The Case for Katherine Mansfield. She then explains the genesis of her current solo performance and her continuing fascination with Mansfield's writings and that Mansfield's attitudes to living and mortality are of universal appeal. But Talking of Katherine Mansfield is neither a talk nor a lecture, nor a solo play but a judicious mix of all three.
After a brief introduction to Mansfield's early life we are confronted with the rebellious eighteen year-old Mansfield, stuck in deadly boring Wellington and longing for LIFE in London, in her story Amore, which Cathy Downes reads. One can hear amongst the adolescent melodramatics snatches of the brilliance of her maturity. Downes keeps reminding us that Mansfield was only thirty-four when she died.
The impact of the death of her brother during the war is revealed in the devastating short story The Fly. Cathy Downes reads it superbly and it says a great deal for the power of the story and the reading that there was no applause at the end, just silence. She also reads The Doll's House and an extract from Bliss with the same authority and skill.
Mansfield's relationship with Middleton Murry is strongly portrayed in extracts from her letters to him. He seems unable to feel or react to Mansfield's shimmering intensity of her love of life and her ability to pin down in her work its fleetingness, its beauty and its sadness.
Despite an ending, which tugged at the emotions in a very theatrical way and seemed unnecessary since no tricks except the tricks of fine writing and performing had been used before, Cathy Downes gives a brilliant performance capturing that shimmering intensity and quest for life led to the full.
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