Mariage Blanc | Sydney Theatre Company

Mariage Blanc | Sydney Theatre CompanyLeft – Paige Gardiner. Cover – Katie McDonald and Paige Gardiner. Photos – Brett Boardman

Mariage Blanc
is a difficult play. It is interesting, intellectually engaging and definitely entertaining. It provides a lot to think about, particularly for students of the Victorian era and the fin-de-siecle, and using the play as a lens through which to view our own society is a deeply thought provoking exercise.

Mariage Blanc is the story of Bianca (Paige Gardiner), a virgin daughter of the Victorian age about to be married to Benjamin (Gig Clarke). She is sexually curious – her sexual explorations with friend and sister Pauline (Katie McDonald) are reminiscent of some of the scenes in Victorian pornographic magazine The Pearl – but not necessarily acquiescent. Bianca, you see, pure as her name might suggest, is not exactly straight. The little she knows about sex terrifies her as much as it intrigues her. The body she is in does not fit her, makes it feel like all doors are locked to her (a concept brilliantly articulated in the set), and it is a body from which she desperately wants to be free. She asks Benjamin whether they can live in a 'mariage blanc' – a pure marriage, one that is unconsummated.

Bianca's confusion and struggle to discover her sexual identity in a society in which that identity is fixed is compelling. When she and Pauline avidly read anatomical textbooks, desperate for some – any – information about sex, I was reminded of Foucault's The History of Sexuality Vol.1, where he argues that discourse around sex in the Victorian age was relocated from the popular to the analytic sphere (the sphere of science, medicine, psychoanalysis, and sexology). Pauline finds some titillation in the textbooks, but the queer Bianca is lost, more confused than ever: she is not represented. There is no refuge for Bianca in the poetic or the literary either – for her, the artistic is also alienating and (literally) phallocentric. She is lost, with no one to turn to, and her search to find a place in her society in which she fits is great theatre. Paige Gardiner turns in a wonderful performance as Bianca – the last moments of the play in particular are heart-stoppingly good.

Sarah Giles's direction is sharp and clever. It is very easy to imagine a mess being made of Mariage Blanc, and Giles' production is just the opposite. The dark humour and campness of the piece mask a bleak heart, something which is at once the strength of the piece and also the source of its greatest question: would a queer person feel as out of place and alienated as Bianca in modern society, one hundred years after the play is set? I would like to say no, but it is terrifying to think that the answer might be yes. Mariage Blanc uses a Victorian framework to interrogate society at our own fin-de-siecle.

I'm not sure that Mariage Blanc is a play that the casual viewer will find rewarding. It is complex and multi-layered, and demands complete engagement from the audience. It is a piece whose meaning must be worked for, and even this work may not ultimately prove rewarding. It is, however, unforgettable, and there is a lot in it for the engaged audience member to mull over for many days afterwards.

Sydney Theatre Company presents
Mariage Blanc
by Tadeusz Rózewicz | adapted by Melissa Bubnic

Directed by Sarah Giles

Venue: Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company | The Wharf, Pier 4, Hickson Road, Walsh Bay
Dates: 1 – 16 December 2012
Tickets: $30
Bookings: 02 9250 1777 |

Sign up for our newsletter

* indicates required