J M Barrie’s 1920 ghost story Mary Rose feels like a very Victorian affair, as it comes from an age when people investigated the paranormal ‘scientifically’ and theorised about “strange and inexplicable” matters. In Matthew Parker’s new production at the Riverside Studios, such ideas are presented well; the sound of radio waves and the flash of photography echo research into spectral presences. This is something different from the average chills and thrills ghost story and makes an interesting and refreshing change.
For our heroine Mary Rose, the world is full of ghosts but, even when they abduct her, they aren’t that scary. As the story travels through time, including a visit to his former home by Mary Rose’s son, we might get a goose bump, but this is really a story not of horror but about loss. Parker has a large group of mourning spirits accompanying the action. They sing and dance to composer Maria Haik Escudero’s score and even help to change the set – which is at least useful. The execution of the ensemble leaves much to be desired as the bizarre movements become so laboured that they break the spell of what could have been an intriguing idea.
When the ghosts are absent, Mary Rose styles itself as a gentle drawing-room comedy. Again there are problems with the older cast members playing this too broadly but the leads manage a slightly mocking tone well. Jessie Cave, of Harry Potter fame, brings her considerable talents to the challenging title role, embodying Mary Rose’s otherworldly quality wonderfully. Carsten Hayes plays her fiancé, who develops nicely from a “larky” young man into an abandoned husband. These performances are impressive. As are Parker’s admirable ambitions for the show. Despite its flaws, Mary Rose manages to rise above the level of a period curiosity.
Until 28 April 2012
Photo by Laura Harling
Written 2 April 2012 for The London Magazine