I AM NOT MARGARET MAHY
22/05/2018 - 26/05/2018
STAGE ADAPTATION OF MARGARET MAHY’S ESSAY NOTES OF A BAG LADY TO PREMIERE AT BATS THEATRE
Witch, jungle child, bewildered student, detective, librarian, shark: Margaret Mahy defied definition at every turn, embodying aspects of her characters in the many lives she lived.
For 5 nights only from 22-26th May at BATS Theatre, a delightful stage adaptation of her essay Notes of a Bag Lady will reveal the eccentric woman behind the stories that ignited our imaginations: her witchy ways, her bag-lady tendencies and her never-ending search for adventure. It’s a reminder to us all that you can grow old, but you don’t need to grow up.
Notes of a Bag Lady has been adapted for the stage by acclaimed Wellington theatre practitioner Jane Waddell, whose adaptation of Kate de Goldi’s The ACB with Honora Lee delighted Wellington audiences at Circa Theatre in 2016, as part of the NZ Festival.
“When I read Notes of a Bag Lady I was struck by how clearly Mahy’s voice, her intelligence and her curiosity and humour, leapt off the page,” says Jane. “I was aware that nothing about her life had been presented on stage before and felt that as one of our most adored and successful writers, she herself deserved an outing.”
I Am Not Margaret Mahy recounts the varied path Mahy took to becoming one of New Zealand’s most successful and celebrated writers, from a young girl growing up in Whakatane trying to convince her school friends that she really was a witch, to a bewildered student graduating with “a very ordinary BA”, to a librarian and finally, a full-time writer.
At every stage we are reminded of her extraordinary imagination, and shown how her famous characters – witches, lions, sharks and any number of pirates – were born out of her (often quite adult) life experiences. “It’s not a children’s show,” says Jane, “but it is a show for young adults and adults who have loved her writing and would like to know more about her life.”
Not only an accomplished scriptwriter, Jane also performs as Mahy in the play. Audiences will recognise Jane from her more than four decades of acting, including numerous productions at Circa Theatre and theatres around the country, and several TV roles on shows such as Gliding On and What Now?
“I wanted to have someone young to direct, who could really bring it to life onstage,” says Jane. Enter Wellington rising star, director Stella Reid, a whirlwind of productivity who blasted on to the theatre and film scene in after graduating with Distinction from the Masters of Directing course (co-taught at Toi Whakaari NZ Drama School and Victoria University of Wellington). Stella’s recent work includes sell-out stage shows Wine Lips, Aunty, and White Man Behind a Desk, short film Drop Down Globe and web series Burbs.
“One of the most loveable aspects of this show is that it really brings back that feeling of delight, surprise and wonder that you had when you were a child and you read her books,” says Stella. “It’s a reminder to us all that you can grow old, but you don’t have to grow up.”
The Propeller Stage, BATS Theatre, 1 Kent Terrace
Tuesday 22 – Saturday 26 May 2018, 6.30pm
Ticket prices: $14 – $20
Please note: I Am Not Margaret Mahy is appropriate for adults and young adults, but isn’t a children’s show.
Presented by arrangement with Playmarket.
Supported by WCC Creative Communities.
Designed by Marcus McShane, Lucas Neal and Sophie Sargent
Theatre , Solo ,
Delightful stories engagingly told, inventively staged
Review by Cassandra Tse 23rd May 2018
I Am Not Margaret Mahy at BATS Theatre is a charming, if underbaked, portrait of a New Zealand icon. Adapted from the beloved children’s author’s essay Notes of a Bag Lady by Jane Waddell, who also performs the piece, I Am Not Margaret Mahy is an affectionate tribute to the eccentric writer but does little to challenge the public perception of her.
The play opens with Waddell as Margaret (we assume, though occasionally the text gestures towards a metatheatrical framework which is never fully fleshed out) pottering around Lucas Neal’s cosy set, a beautifully rendered artist’s studio/living space full of books, pinecones, suitcases and other bric-a-brac. As Margaret interacts with the space, playfully re-appropriating the objects around her for use in the stories she tells, we discover that the set’s deceptive realism holds magical secrets – a desk that’s full of water, books that glow when opened.
Director Stella Reid keeps Waddell moving constantly throughout the play’s hour-long runtime, exploring new props and set pieces with each anecdote and continually transforming the space around her. What could have been a fairly static piece in the wrong hands is enlivened by energetic direction and an inventive use of space.
As a performer, Waddell has an easy rapport with her audience. She is at her best when personifying Margaret as a cheeky, rebellious child, a stage in the author’s life which Waddell narrates with mischievous energy. Waddell neatly captures Mahy’s wicked sense of humour, and is able to laugh off a few opening night flubs with a wry comment or two, which only endear her more to the audience. Waddell’s narration style, however, can become a little repetitive as she tends to use the same vocal cadence for every sentence – some more modulation would make the text seem less ‘memorised’.
Most of the play is spent recounting amusing episodes from Mahy’s past: her childhood as an aspiring witch and Jungle Book-style wild boy, her half-hearted attempts at a nursing career and joining the police force, the brief experiences that inspired some of her more well-known stories. These little tales are funny, but rarely add up to anything beyond the surface-level; no attempt is made to complicate the portrait Mahy paints of herself as New Zealand’s eccentric Nana – a little cheeky, a little naughty, a child at heart. A short reference is made to Mahy’s 2009 drink driving conviction, but this is brushed aside; Margaret briefly mentions that she has two children, but we never delve into her family life at all.
What is frustrating about I Am Not Margaret Mahy is its lack of ambition as a piece. It is content to entertain the audience with diverting anecdotes, without ever exploring anything of substance. We never get a sense of Margaret Mahy as a human being with loves, pains, fears, hopes and sadnesses – just the image of herself she’d like to project. The problem may lie with the source material; I assume that the original essay is itself nothing more than a collection of anecdotes and musings rather than a full autobiography, and perhaps it is unfair to demand any more from an adaptation. Still, after the play comes (very abruptly) to an end, I leave the theatre feeling unsatisfied.
I Am Not Margaret Mahy is by no means a bad play, and despite the lightness of its content it is an easy, enjoyable way to pass an hour. As a collection of delightful stories, told by an engaging performer and supported by inventive design, it is a success. As a theatrical exploration of one of New Zealand’s most well-known literary figures, I Am Not Margaret Mahy barely scratches the surface.
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