Project Arts Centre, Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival
My review of Colm Tóibín’s Testament starring Marie Mullen and directed by Garry Hynes coming up just as soon as I see Artemis for the first time ...
Upon entering Testament in the upstairs space of Project Arts Centre you notice you have begun walking on sand. You turn through the blacks and enter from a wooden floored stage. Grey walls box us in with an enormous yellow canvas draped above. If these monumental production values that follow Garry Hynes wherever she goes don’t excite upon first impression, perhaps the notion of her reunion with Druid sister Marie Mullen will, or the fact that she’s gotten her hands on a new play by Colm Tóibín. On paper Testament sounds like a dream production. In reality it is one of the worst plays I have been to this year.
Mullen appears from the shadows grief-strucken. Her son (to mention his name would break her heart), a politically active individual who can cure the sick, has been murdered. It has been the festival’s best kept secret that Tóibín’s monologue is in fact a portrayal of the Virgin Mary at the time of her son’s crucifixion. To give this monumental voice to her is a moving and clever notion but, really, who are we kidding? This production is all about being impossibly clever and leaving the audience behind in the dust, and further frustrating is that poor Marie Mullen is made the mouthpiece of it.
Hynes envisions an immaculate space here but is careless in prompting variance in Mullen’s performance. Physically, Mullen is caged by lighting beams, which are Hynes’ primary means of using each corner of the stage. Tóibín’s text is too cryptically heavy to be the main provider here. Perhaps his exhaustion of adjectives mystify on the page but here they starve for our praise more than anything else. This is a demonstration of technical prose, not any shrine dedicated to motherhood. The only worthwhile moment is when Mullen’s woman cries out that the crucifixion of her son, despite the good it brought to the world, was not worth it, and this is a testament to her talents as opposed to those of her colleagues.
Testament is an epitome of how distastefully removed the artist can be from the audience in an elitist way, both creatively and economically (in no way does this merit thirty five euro). In its efforts to hide and mystify its intentions it fails them, and I doubt anyone will mourn.
What did everybody else think?