The Mary of the title was performer Winsome Brown’s mother, and this is Winsome’s tribute – her and her siblings’ story of growing up with Mary. It’s no spoiler to say she died; the show opens with Winsome and her brother Nicholas visiting her grave. As we soon discover, Mum died of a lung disease exacerbated by her smoking and drinking – which were hopelessly out of hand, to the chagrin and worry of everyone around her.
The show combines narration, a few Irish folk songs beautifully sung, guitar playing, and dramatic evocation of no less than fifteen characters – male and female – in the space of an hour. So there is clearly much to recommend Winsome Brown, who also wrote the show and lists further creative talents and achievements on her website. She says she ‘enjoys voiceover work tremendously’, and this doubtless is her strength as a performer: you can tell that from her delivery of a plethora of characters through their voices, and the conversations she essentially has with herself, with few supporting props.
However, you’ll know from the star rating that there’s a "but" coming – and sorry to say, the "but" is not to do with Winsome, nor her story’s potential, but the tone of the show itself. This is a sad and worrisome tale – we hear of Mary descending to the basement first thing in the morning for the hair of the dog, her son’s repeated discovery of Mum passed out on the bed mid-afternoons (understandably Winsome didn’t want to believe it at first), and Mary’s self-disgust at every day she doesn’t succeed in getting a handle on her drinking. But still the narrative doesn’t move, nor engender empathy – not for the mother, not for her husband of 45 years, not for her child.
Whilst Brown’s achievement is impressive for the variety of talents she displays, she may have given herself too much to do in one hour. Playing so many characters, she always keeps a ‘professional distance’ from the sorry kernel of her story. Characters aren’t fleshed out; their vulnerability remains intact.
We do get that the extra guest at the party – the wine, the wine – was, well, an unwelcome concern. We get the trial Mary’s alcoholism must have been for her kids, reversing roles and parenting her, pleading her to go to rehab. It doesn’t take much of a leap to imagine their ordeal – but it’s an intellectual leap.
Presumably Winsome’s distance was well-cultivated; loyalty, too, might play a part. But in real life, was everyone so matter-of-fact, so un-angry, so un-scared about it all? The lack of emotion expressed, even when Mum is dying in hospital (a scene dominated instead by a comedic Catholic Father) is unbelievable, in the literal sense of the word. And this is why, regrettably, I award only two stars.