Jackie Sibblies Drury’s boldly innovative ‘Fairview’, which premiered in London at The Young Vic in 2019, egged audiences to be empowered by the story and at the same time a play to enjoy and appreciate the unique theatrical elements. In ‘Marys Seacole’ Drury strives along the same line yet slightly misses the market to deliver a big enough statement on race, stereotypes or even the structure of society, which Drury has been known to challenge in her works. That being said, ‘Marys Seacole’ is a very entertaining and immersive piece of theatre and succeeds in weaving many comical moments into the compelling story, without diminishing the dramatic effect of the protagonist’s struggles.
The play is based on the life of the British-Jamaican nurse, Mary Seacole, who served in the Crimean War assisting sick, wounded soldiers. She is considered a hero of the Victorian era and was able to use her knowledge on Caribbean spices and remedies to treat British soldiers. The play, however, doesn’t follow her life as a biography – showing each event in her life exactly as it happened: not the typical Drury style. Instead, we seem to switch between the present day and the mid-19th century – Seacole’s lifetime. The switch between time periods adds to the comedic value of the play and enables the audience to relate with the characters from the present day. The switches between time periods were very cleverly devised and aesthetically pleasing.
Latif (the director) used the lighting to show this contrast between time periods. For instance, in the opening scene with the mother – Olivia Williams, the daughter – Esther Smith, and the grandmother – Susan Wooldridge, the stage was evenly lit and everyone on stage was visible. There was a slight green tint in the colour of the lighting, which helped to convey that the scene was set in an average, modern hospital. The transition into Seacole’s lifetime seemed like a magician’s illusion. As the two nurses – Mary and Mamie, cleaned the featureless hospital bed, they began to replace the bland sheets with rough, textured blankets and the LED lights with candles, the lighting then changes to a dime warm light only enough for the audience to see the characters faces, completely contrasting the high-key lighting from the previous scene. This use of colour and lighting to represent the different time periods creates a more striking piece of theatre: ergo, enhancing the impact the story has on the audience.
Latif succeeded in creating a visually stunning piece of theatre. Mary Seacole was a unique portrayal of that period in time. Ergo, if you are looking for a complex, visually fascinating, unique piece of theatre, I would most definitely recommend ‘Mary Seacole’ at the Donmar Warehouse. Directed by Nadia Latif, the UK premiere of Pulitzer Prize winner Jackie Sibblies Drury’s celebrated new play reunites the team behind her critically-acclaimed Fairview in 2019.
Runs until 4th June.
Book tickets: https://bit.ly/3PKSiYF
by Byron Lightfoot