A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!



Bec Applebee presents

Oh Mary!



Written by Anna Murphy


Directed by Simon Harvey and Bec Applebee


Pleasance Theatre


8 – 13 Feb 2011





Oh Mary! is a one-woman travel epic that proves that it's better to have lived and lost, than never to have lived at all. With enchanting mime and electric physicality, Bec Applebee commands all manner of theatrical settings, from the bowels of a prison ship to the drought-ridden Australian coast. Accompanied by nothing more than an intricate original score, ambient lighting and a handful of well chosen multi-functional props the heart-warming actress weaves a story which charms children and adults alike.

The year is 1786 and after being sentenced to a life of hard labour in the colonies for stealing a lady's bonnet, Mary sets off as a prisoner on a ship to the other side of the world. Her voyage not only brings her great suffering, but great joy in the form of a husband, a family, and short sweet snippets of freedom. It's a true story too, Mary Bryant really did escape from Botany Bay and lead her family and men on a sixty-six day, 5,000 kilometer journey in a small, open boat, to the safe haven of East Timor, only to be recaptured and sent back to England. A tale driven by sensation, Applebee arouses and illuminates the audience to all extremes, from the putrid smells of the overcrowded ship to the colours of the fish on the barrier reef.

The beauty of the piece is most evident through the rhythm Applebee conducts; each setting is given enough time to become familiar without becoming banal, whisking the audience from spectacle to spectacle without disorientating them. Applebee's ability to breath life into her props adds a depth to the play which supersedes the more common one-actor-multiple-role construction. Her romantic but fiery dances with a dashingly handsome cleaning mop are as vivid as if Michael Flatly was her onstage counterpart. But her real in-production counterpart is the music.

Commissioned to create original tracks for the show, Dalla and Radjel's sound-scapes provide a whole new character for Applebee to interact with. Whether it's a Cornish jig or a creep through the Australian bush, the score not only matches Applebee's tone but enhances her tension and exposes a richer layer of the story. It is the juxtaposition between songs composed in a Western verse-chorus structure and the eerie, off-beat notes of exotic instruments which reveal the thought and complexity of the composition – and it's a real treat for the ears.

The set is rugged but delicate. Littered with sacks of rice, coils of rope and a chest-cum-schooner, the props that support the action are both handy and natural, giving Applebee a chance to exhibit her physical theatricality without straying from the plot. The wash of blue canvas backdrop is another magical addition - at first gaudy, it grows in suitability with the story, eventually creating a beautiful sky for Applebee to fly her soothing butterflies across.

Oh Mary! is a show which feels both crafted and malleable. Unlike so many ephemeral dashes on the London fringe, Bec Applebee seems to have invested in this piece, like an artist working on an ever changing sculpture. At once alive and self-confident, the show has a simplicity which denotes a graceful and humble attitude to theatre, and an understanding of humanity which feels honest but bright. Rarely does theatre have the presence to bring a tear to my eye, but as Mary Bryant holds up her noose in her suicidal Hamlet moment, I had to quickly pretend that my eyes were a little sweaty from the heat of the lights.

Box Office: 020 7609 1800 / www.pleasance.co.uk

Pleasance Theatre
Carpenter Mews
N7 9EF

February 8th – 13th 2011, 7.45pm (For more dates around the country check


Tickets: £10


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