The Knowing Of Mary Poppins: Darlinghurst Theatre Company

No biographical play about the creator of Mary Poppins could ever follow a straight and narrow path.
The Knowing Of Mary Poppins: Darlinghurst Theatre Company
The Knowing Of Mary Poppins: Darlinghurst Theatre Company An aging woman sits, laughing with self-deprecation, in a rocking chair and confides her desire to become an old crone. As she sorts her life’s papers, she is interrupted by gurgling cries. A spotlight shines on a child, dreaming on a pile of hay, recalling the moment before its birth, when an angel told it the meaning of life … Into this fantastical scene emerges a third woman. With an air of efficient self-assurance somewhat reminiscent of a certain famous nanny, she explains to the older woman, and to the audience, that they three will represent three stages of P. L. Travers’ life – child, mother and old crone. No biographical play about the creator of Mary Poppins could ever follow a straight and narrow path. Directed by Leah Mercer, The Knowing Of Mary Poppinsis a collaboration of five writers, including Mercer and actors Margi Brown Ash and Stace Callaghan, along with Marcel Dorney and Carol Schmidt. Together, the playwrights have created a production, based on Valerie Lawson’s biography of P. L. Travers, Out of the Sky She Came, which carries the audience into a dream-version of reality. All life is only a memory, memories are only as real as imaginings; and so the history of the soul’s inner and outer lives interweave to become a synthesised whole. From this mystical basis, the play charts the many facets of Travers’ intriguing life; visiting and re-visiting her childhood in small-town Queensland; her adult life in London; her hero-worship of poet, George William Russell and mystic, Gurdjieff; her uncertain relationship with a woman named Madge and her fraught relationship with her adopted son. Margi Brown Ash, Stace Callaghan and Molly Knight are each compelling in their separate roles as Crone, Child and Mother. Brown Ash is beautifully fractured as the witty, resplendent older woman, wavering between wisdom and uncertainty; touched too late by regrets and a newly-softened heart. As she tries, unsuccessfully, to sort her papers for posterity, Callaghan and Knight re-enact for her a multitude of memories, taking on numerous additional roles. Knight is wonderfully comic as the child Travers’ terrifying Aunt, who creaks with every movement to perfectly-timed sound-effects, but also deeply moving in her all too brief scenes as Travers’ mother and, ultimately, spookily recognisable when she dons full Mary Poppins’ costume. Callaghan is less convincing – her “Child” voice is sometimes cringe-inducing and her Irish accent not quite up to scratch – but the sheer physicality and emotional intensity of her performance obscures these defects and, whether as Walt Disney or as a chicken, she is strikingly on the mark. Set design, music and staging all combine to form a cohesive and extraordinarily creative production. Robert D. Clark’s live performance of his own lilting score transports the audience even before the lights go up on Conan Fitzpatrick’s “Aladdin’s Cave” set, depicting a well-travelled psyche’s long-hoarded treasures. P. L. Travers’ fascination with mysticism formed the basis for the character of Mary Poppins: a character whose origins elude Travers and mystify her throughout the play. In much the same way, the audience awaits an exposition of the character of Travers herself, but she eludes us, as Mary Poppins seems to have eluded her. Melting away into its own ether, the play leaves us with a slightly dissatisfied air. Having received only the tiniest glimpses into the life and thoughts of this strange and multi-faceted woman, are we any the wiser, and do we care as much about her as we might wish? In the end, the strict, disciplinarian Mary Poppins, entrancingly magical but impervious, has kept a tight reign on the character of P. L. Travers. She gives Travers a glimpse of the world beyond, but does not break the spell she holds over her in this world. Travers’ emotional frigidity leaves a trail of broken relationships in its wake and, in the end, she keeps the audience, too, at arms length, despite our longing to feel, as Travers tells us we do, “like children, waiting … for the broken moon to heal itself … with ecstatically held breath”. The Knowing Of Mary Poppins: Darlinghurst Theatre Company Written by: Marcel Dorney, Leah Mercer, Margi Brown Ash, Stace Callaghan & Carol Schmidt Directed by: Leah Mercer Produced by: Phil Berry Starring: Margi Brown Ash, Stace Callaghan and Molly Knight Season: 20 May – 13 June Tuesday - Saturday 8pm, Sunday 5pm Matinee performances Saturday 6 & 13 June at 3pm and Wednesday 10 June at 1.30pm Adult $37, Concession $32, Preview $27* Darlinghurst Theatre Company 19 Greenknowe Avenue Potts Point, NSW

Jennie Sharpe

Wednesday 27 May, 2009

About the author

Jennie Sharpe is a poet, freelance writer and editor. She has published a collection of poetry in the book Australia: Facing the South and is also a novelist and short story writer. Jennie studied literature and theatre and is a classically trained musician. She is passionate about film, theatre, opera and visual art and is currently a sub-editor and contributor for French Provincial magazine.