Review: The Testament of Mary at the Old Joint Stock Theatre

Picture the scene – it is the early first century Christian Era and we are a small group of believers meeting illegally to hear an eye witness account of the life of perhaps the most famous man who ever lived, shortly after his terrible death.

Warned to keep silent we are led into an upper room in a safe house and urgently instructed what to do and how to behave if the authorities discover this covert meeting that is very much against the law.

Because we are Christian believers here to listen to Mary, mother of Christ, tell her own eyewitness story of the career, including miracles and terrible death, of her son, Jesus of Nazareth. The problem is – it differs in many ways from the four gospels’ version. These were all told by men with their own, different agendas.

The Testament of Mary

The Testament of Mary

As Colm Toibin’s story of the rise to fame of an obscure preacher, Jesus of Nazareth, unfolds a fresh viewpoint appears on the career of this legendary but obscure figure. Because this was a country under foreign occupation, and the charismatic Christ who was careful most of the time not to preach politics under Roman rule became the focus of the many discontented men around him.

And in a pre-media age, supposition became rumour and rumour became fact. That the gospels differ in their telling of this famous story and its miracles is easy to understand in a global media society. And this is an occupied kingdom, a Britain under the Nazis, where word of mouth is the only available news.

But Mary is a defiant witness. She takes no prisoners in a world of men who even told her how she felt at the moment of Christ’s conception, never mind his greetings card birth. The result of her testament is a radical rethink of how myths begin, how stories grow, how the re-tellers have their own agenda. The fact is the gospels all differ in detail to some extent. Mary’s single version here comes from one who lived it all.

Jean Wilde as Mary is marvellous as she delivers her increasingly troubling story in a powerful 90 minute monologue. And only director Tracey Street could succeed in turning the intimate arena of the OJS theatre into a makeshift hidden meeting room in a not-very safe house entered through a secret roof space, where a blasphemous tale is torn from the heart of a mother before a group of frightened but devout seekers after truth.

An unsettling and fascinating evening I suspect I’ll be thinking about for a good while to come.

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