St Mary’s In Exile
Queensland Theatre Company
Bille Brown Studio
August 27 – September 25 2016
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
I have stillness.
Peter Kennedy, St Mary’s In Exile
How powerful is truth? How profound? How necessary?
An urgent, new, local story, impeccably researched and superbly shaped by local writer, David Burton, reveals the tiny detail in the big news of the Catholic Church in 2009. It’s a monumental story that you didn’t know you needed to know. An intimate and explosive production, St Mary’s In Exile puts us right in the middle of highly controversial real-life events as they occur in the retelling.
The tale is presented without bias and at times we’re shocked to feel, for half a moment, that the Church representatives from their perspectives may have a point, however; from the perspective of the tight-knit community (and most of the rest of the world) their views seem obtuse and outdated. (A razor sharp, highly entertaining QANDA segment brilliantly summarises all sides of the story before sending one camera down the rabbit hole before the scene ends with a bang. It’s weird, it’s current, it’s meta…and it works).
By framing the tale within a single stormy storytelling evening when Peter Kennedy, excommunicated from the Catholic Church, must finally leave the premises, we’re able to view events through a retrospective lens and also, see the action take place in real time.
Anthony Spinaze’s spare design works so beautifully in the space it almost looks as if it’s a permanent part of the Bille Brown Studio, despite the concrete and slate and well worn, grubby carpet in the set, which is certainly not in keeping with the clean and cosy style of Queensland Theatre, but authentic in its representation of the little church around the corner. Daniel Anderson’s evocative lighting and Justin Harrison’s moody, stormy sound design take us in and out of time and across the mind and heart and soul of ex-Father Peter Kennedy (Peter Marshall) as this unbelievable story is retold one stormy night to a mysterious homeless man (Ben Warren).
I’m not Catholic. I didn’t know the story of St Mary’s. I missed the headlines when the diverse-as-the-lamb-ad-backlash congregation of St Mary’s left the building located just 300 metres from the rebranded Queensland Theatre building and moved to Peel Street in the most dramatic schism since the 11th Century. Still meeting in the Trades and Labor Council building today, these are the several hundred loyal, enlightened followers and friends of Peter Kennedy.
It seems so bizarre that these events actually happened, that people actually caused such a fuss over a Buddha statue in the foyer, or the blessing of same sex couples, or women in the pulpit, and that the Catholic Church kicked up the biggest stink of all. This play nails it – the problems brought about by the media circus and organised religion as opposed to genuine faith, and the ways in which individuals are most affected. Why not live and let live, tolerate those who do no harm to others, and move through the world peacefully? It’s easier than people make it out to be. This play doesn’t need to spell it out, but simply introduces characters who are trying to do just that.
The performances are moving, the characters connected and interconnected, the relationships within this ensemble shaped with care by director, Jason Klarwein, and honoured by actors Chenoa Deemal, Joss McWilliam, Kevin Spink and Luisa Prosser. It’s a strong cast with stand out performances from Peter Marshall as the compassionate Peter Kennedy and Bryan Probets as Joseph. One of Brisbane’s favourites, Probets embraces the vulnerability, despair and devotion of this character so ably we see someone we hope never to recognise in real life and yet, these people, the most vulnerable of all, exist, if only we look around and open our eyes and arms and hearts to them. It feels as if each character is someone we already know, and of course there are those who really do, or really did, know these people. (Peter Kennedy attended opening night). They are so real, so beautifully drawn from life; we see right into their heads and hearts. We feel a part of this little congregation. We feel the enormous injustice against them. We’re fully invested from the start and we’re reminded by the end, we have a responsibility to help make things right. Can we all walk away and help make things right?
Burton’s new play is powerful; it’s good, quiet, humbly world-changing theatre that gets in early on Sam Strong’s mantra for the 2017 season. Deserving of a place in the Australian canon, St Mary’s In Exile sees the company proudly #leadingfromqueensland