THE CASE OF KATHERINE MANSFIELD
07/09/2012 - 15/09/2012
“Love and Mushrooms. If only one could tell true love from false love as one can tell mushrooms from toadstools.”
Join this celebrated writer on her struggle for freedom. An intimate evening with one of literature’s most spirited trailblazers at one of Sydney’s coziest bars, Mr. Falcon’s.
Rock up early and grab a special Katherine Mansfield Cocktail from Mr. Falcon himself, then just sit back and get enlightened.
Starring Rosanna Easton & Directed by Ashley Hawkes
And with Alex-Bryant Smith and live cello by Simeon Johnson
92 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe, New South Wales 2037
7th, 8th, 13th, 14th, 15th September @ 8pm.
Tickets at http://2012.sydneyfringe.com/event/theatre/case-katherine-mansfield-cathy-downes and also available at the door.
Review by Kirsty McGuire 15th Sep 2012
Catherine Downes’ The Case of Katherine Mansfield, directed by Ashley Hawkes, is adapted with great care from Mansfield’s stories, letters and personal diaries.
I arrive, as many Sydney-siders would, knowing very little about Mansfield (except that she was a New Zealand author who rose to fame at the beginning of the 20th century) and wondering how she will be introduced to an Australian audience.
We enter the small upstairs room of a bustling pub in Glebe to find Rosanna Easton (who plays the title character) already standing with her back to the seats. The balcony doors above the busy road are open and the cars sailing by are visible. Alex Bryant-Smith who plays Mansfield’s husband John Middleton Murray is seated so close to the front row that he could be mistaken for an audience member.
Sitting in the front row, I’m immediately struck by the lighting. The light shines gently but directly into my eyes. I put this down as a mistake or a compromise that had to be made in the cramped space, and when the play begins, I promptly forget about it.
Easton disarms us before she even turns around, striking a mime like pose and then launching into the text with a kind of unapologetic bohemian glee. Her performance flirts with the melodramatic but always feels truthful. Simeon Johnson magnifies the emotional pitch of the play beautifully with his playing of the electric cello.
The play itself seems to be structured around two philosophies:
The first is Mansfield’s own, “to acknowledge the presence of fear is to give birth to failure.” Easton portrays Mansfield’s bravery, or rather her determination not to acknowledge fear, wonderfully. She locks eyes with Bryant-Smith and then each audience member in the front row and speaks the beautiful prose of the play directly to us in her rich and delightfully accented voice.
It is through her breaking of the fourth wall that the deliberateness of the lighting occurs to me. We are lit because we are part of the show. We have become Mansfield’s friends. In fact many of the choices in the direction were for the specific purpose of breaking down the barriers between the play and the real world. At one point Easton shouts a line from the balcony out to Glebe Point Road, and she is answered by giggles of real people walking by below us.
Bryant-Smith is a kind of human bridge between performer and audience member. He only has two lines (the first and last of the play) and for the rest of the time he mostly sits and watches her – just like us. This connection between the character, and the audience (and the world) not only makes the play a genuine piece of what Peter Brooke would call ‘Immediate Theatre’, it overcomes one of the problems inherent in portraying a historical figure.
Mansfield the historical figure is dead. This creates an obstacle to generating an emotional response to her death because it is inevitable. It is hard not to feel resigned to her fate because it is an historical fact. However the immediacy of the connection between Easton’s Mansfield and her audience makes us care about her illness. She delivers a monologue about coughing up blood with the calmest frankness (deliberately not acknowledging the fear that Mansfield must have felt), as if trying to gently break the news of her fatal illness to us as her friends. It makes us worry for her and mourn her.
The second philosophy is that that she led a largely ‘false life’. The script plays with this idea, periodically layering self-aware contradictions on top of each other. At one point in the play, she will declare her hatred of someone and then later, her love for them. The segments of the play taken from her diary are styled more like stories than recorded events. She chose what to remember and how to remember it, and in the retelling of her versions these memories they became true.
The overall impression is that Mansfield was an empowered young woman who took control of the creation of herstory. She chose not to feel fear and to record, tell, and create the events of her life the way she wanted them.
Despite the fact that I never once felt like I was being taught anything, I walked away from the play knowing significantly more about this remarkable woman.
The Case of Katherine Mansfield is a simply wonderful piece of theatre – the kind that makes you believe in theatre.
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