Drawing: Fiona Shaw in The Testament of Mary at The Barbican

Fiona Shaw

The Testament of Mary is a controversial play by Colm Tóbin based on his 2012 Man Booker Prize shortlisted novella of the same name and the play Testament, which was initially performed at the Dublin Theatre Festival in October 2011. It imagines a new account of Christ, one is which his mother Mary questions her son’s death, his divinity and the followers who called him the son of God.

Its short Broadway run in 2013 had militant Christians on the streets accusing it of blasphemy, though it still garnered three Tony nominations, including Best Play. Tony-nominee and four time Olivier-award-winning actress Fiona Shaw played Mary, directed by long time collaborator and Olivier-winner Deborah Warner. The production had its only UK performances at London’s Barbican, where Deborah is the Associate Director, in May 2014.

The play gives Mary a voice, since she is strangely silent in the Biblical text, in an 80 minute monologue. It powerfully captures the terrible grief of a disenchanted mother who has lost her son, first by fame and then by a terrible public death. One of the most potent moments is when Mary says, “when you say that he redeemed the world I will say it was not worth it, was not worth it.”

The production mesmerised audiences and critics alike on both sides of the Atlantic. The Telegraph’s Charles Spencer summed up the acclaim, “Shaw is magnificent thorughout.”


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