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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 and family, and short 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 though the rhythm Applebee conducts; each setting is given enough time to become familiar without becoming banal, whisking the audience from spectacle to spectacle without disorienting 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 Micheal Flatly was her counterpart. But her real in-production counterpart is the music.

Commissioned to create original tracks for the show, Dalla and Radjel's soundscapes 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 juxtapositon between songs composed in a Western vesre-chorus structure and the eerie, off-beat notes of exotic instruments which reveal the thought and compexity 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.


                            Ink Pellet



Oh Mary

Oh Mary  

Oh Mary at the Tobacco Factory Bristol

Co-directed by Simon Harvey (Kneehigh) and Bec Applebee, Oh Mary takes centre stage at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol. This physical theatre show brings to life the incredible true story of Mary Bryant, a woman who experiences conviction, motherhood, love and loss in an epic journey from Cornwall to Australia.
Mary was born in Cornwall in 1765, and after stealing a bonnet, is arrested and found guilty of violent highway robbery. Her punishment is exile to Botany Bay, Australia. During her long journey, Mary faces violence and abuse, gives birth on the boat and then marries William Bryant. She has two other children, before attempting a desperate escape. She finally loses all the people she loved, but survives to find redemption.
Bec Applebee, known for her work with Kneehigh, Wildworks and Dalla theatre companies, doesn’t play Mary; she is Mary. She is so intense, passionate, and credible there is no need for other actors. She transform a mop into Mary’s husband, and when Mary dances with him the spectator sees him. When Mary gives birth, the labour pain and tenderness are palpable.
Oh Mary is an epic experience and the audience is swept away by this brave journey of physical and emotional storytelling. Catch it if you can.