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The Testament Of Mary

Published 8 May 2014

What’s it all about?

Mary, mother of Jesus, speaks relatively few words in The Gospels, so author Colm Toíbín has given her a voice, first in a Man Booker Prize nominated novel and now in his own stage adaptation. The result is a mother’s response to the life of the world’s most famous son, rich with emotion and intrigue.

Who’s in it?

Olivier Award-winning Irish actress Fiona Shaw holds the stage singlehandedly as Mary, revealing every inch of maternal instinct in the mother of Christ. With Toíbín’s words in her mouth, at times she sounds like a friend’s mum chatting about one of your old pals, referring to the disciples with cheery half-disapproval as misfits, recalling miracles as anecdotes and wondering confusedly at the spin given by his followers to the actions of Jesus that she sees simply as those of her son.

What should I look out for?

Don’t leave it to the last minute to head into the auditorium. If you’re there early you can explore the stage, set and props while Shaw sits in a candle-lit tableaux of a shrine to the Blessed Virgin, watched over by the most good natured vulture. Then head back to your seat to watch the other theatregoers flock to the shrine like a mini pilgrimage. This, in itself, is quite a sight.

In a nutshell?

Hail Shaw’s Mary, who finds the rawest humanity amid the most spiritual of stories.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@kelseyljacobs Fiona Shaw is incredible in #testamentofmary – a show about mythologizing, truth, and the ultimate baseness (and universality!) of humanity

@greekwoman2 Remarkable performance by #FionaShaw in #TestamentofMary at #TheBarbican. A raw embodiment of the rage and torment that is grief.

Will I like it?

Shaw is a master of the solo show; an actress whose charisma and emotion can fill the most vast of spaces and convey the most complex ideas. Here she is at her best, wringing out anger, frustration, grief, confusion, disappointment and, most clearly of all, a mother’s love as she portrays the parent rather than the icon.

At 80 minutes long it leaves you plenty of time to discuss the production over a post-show drink. There’s many a question raised, from religion to imagery, parenthood to politics. If your beliefs border on Christian fundamentalism this may not be for you. Otherwise it’s a heavenly treat that invites hours more thought.


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