The story of Mary Bryant has been told many times, but never better than in this accomplished musical, at last receiving its Victorian premiere. Sentenced for seven years and sent to Botany Bay on the First Fleet, Mary, her husband, daughter, and other convicts escape the harsh conditions, and sail for 66 days from Sydney to Timor. Re-captured by the British, Mary sees her husband and child die, but she herself is finally pardoned.
This astonishing voyage, and, more fundamentally, the real sense that these people strongly deserve something better, give the narrative a deep sense of involvement, of admiration of bravery, and a sincere hope that these ‘wretched of the earth’ can one day live without fear or injustice. It doesn’t entirely turn out that way, but the story is, quite simply, a good one. Nick Enright’s shapely, straightforward script is sympathetically served by David King’s music, and the whole cast, under Aaron Joyner’s direction, give strong performances.
Given the many elements to be integrated in a musical, it is not surprising that some do not fully achieve their aim. Some of the lyrics are a little bland, derivative of other shows, plays and poems, and many songs are so well-integrated into the story, that they almost disappear. Melody is firmly subordinated to meaning, in the Sondheim manner, and those seeking the pleasures of good, stand-alone, singable songs may be disappointed.
The sound balance is variable, and on first night lyrics and voices were lost when actors turned away or faced upstage. Some performances too, were a little broad and one-dimensional, and at times movements too much resemble heroic poses or tableaux. Many of the show’s finest moments, in fact, occur when a quieter, more natural and subtle approach is taken to the meaning, rather than a stereotyped, Broadwayish extroversion.
These misgivings aside, Mary Bryant presents a capable ensemble cast, secure instrumental support, a striking, flexible set, precise lighting, and a general air of conviction. After an over-strenuous start, the principals, Mary (Lisa-Marie Charalambous) and Will (Cole Rintoul), manage a real poignancy by the close, aided by their skilled accurate voices. It is, to repeat, a great pleasure to see a plot with real substance, to hear a skilled and varied score, to see in action the subtle, integrated complexities of successful musical theatre. Catch it while you can.
Magnormos Prompt Musicals Program Presents
Book and Lyrics by Nick Enright
Music by David King
Where: Theatreworks | 14 Acland Street St Kilda
When: 8pm, 21 - 24 Nov and 2pm, 24 Nov
Prices: $25A /$22C (plus b/fee)
Bookings: www.magtix.com or 9352 0232