Wally K. Daly has prefixed his 1987 Virgin-and-Magdalene play with an undistinguished monologue spoken by the centurion guarding Jesus the night before the Crucifixion. Sounding as if it was first written to be delivered straight out to the audience, with addresses to the prisoner spliced in later, it ranges in content from policeman's-notebook accounts of scriptural events to profundity of the "You are dangerously good" variety.
Marys itself is more polished, but still has an inherent problem: how to make the Virgin Mary sound anything other than a proud, fixated, cracked mother. Daly's solution – to turn such earnest remarks as "I had guarded and guided him as only a Jewish mother knows how" into humour – is only a partial one, even before the bleak climax of Pilate's offer to the crowd. It's much easier to sympathise with the worldly Magdalene's history of abortion and whoredom than the Virgin's tale of angelic visitation, and Helene Kvale plays upon the script's bias to dominate the proceedings with her Liverpudlian "tart" (the BVM's term). In the end it comes down to bookkeeping: one engaging character out of three isn't enough.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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