Hamilton Gardens, Mansfield Garden, Hamilton

23/02/2019 - 24/02/2019

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2019

Production Details

“Risk… Risk anything!”  

Mansfield is acknowledged as one of New Zealand’s most influential writers. Her views on the world around her and of a woman’s place in it are as poignant and relevant today as they were when she wrote them at the start of the 20th century. In the gorgeous little one-woman show written by Catherine Downes, we enter the mind of young Katherine, following her intrepid travels around Europe in search of better health and ultimately, freedom.

By arrangement with Playmarket.

Mansfield Garden
Saturday 23 & Sunday 24 Feb 2019
$25 General Admission
$22 Concession
*Booking fees apply

Theatre , Solo ,

Fine acting in a matchless setting celebrates a writer whose light still burns

Review by Gail Pittaway 24th Feb 2019

This solo play first appeared here in the 1980s when Catherine Downes, who had devised it overseas, toured it throughout New Zealand. With its combination of letters, diaries and short stories written by one of our most colourful and significant writers, the monologue uncovers some of the myths and mysteries about this author, from her own words: her obsession with artifice as an important element of art, her passion and remarkable independence for one so young in her era, her outspoken sexuality, her petulant spats with other writers and the strange symbiosis of her marriage to John Middleton Murray.

Without over-working any of these themes, the play reveals some of her motives for writing about the homeland she had left and which keeps emerging in her stories, as well as her often cynical view of relationships and social expectations.  Downes also included reading out two of Mansfield’s stories in the play script, both about children’s play and social interaction – The Prelude and The Doll’s House.

It’s a huge challenge for the performer and director to make all these words and this icon come alive. What a privilege then, to see this play again and in the newly created Mansfield Garden, with the façade of a two-storey villa, arched double-hung and windows and wooden veranda with wooden fretwork and, everywhere glorious planting: the perfect back drop. We sit on the circular lawn with a fountain at our backs and relive a long gone era, but one which produced this first truly modern New Zealand woman writer.

Fay Van der Meulen brings her alive most convincingly, with bobbed hair and flapper dress, moving around the set but always back to the desk at its heart. Her eyes flash with vitality and wit. Her voice is rich and warm, most beautifully suited to the readings of the two stories but also to convey the quickly shifting moods of her character.

This production, directed by Louise Keenan, makes delightful use of the on-site vintage car, recordings of Debussy and light jazz, and the appropriateness of the setting and time of day. As the sun fades, so does Mansfield’s health and the last few scenes in gathering darkness are particularly moving. It recounts her restlessness, living in France for the climate and names her illness, pulmonary tuberculosis, and alludes to her decision to seek peace and serenity at the Gurdjieff Institute in Fontainebleau, where she is buried and where her fans and readers still visit to pay tribute. 

This performance has a few problems with the head-set microphone, causing a few phrases and words to drop and, perhaps because of this technology, the pace is a bit too even, needing a little more variety. Also, with an unnecessarily long interval it’s a big night. But these are petty matters. It’s great to see such fine acting in such a matchless setting and to savour the language and embodiment of a writer whose light still burns. 


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