Review: Mary and Me - 'humorous, heartfelt but cliched at times'

Theatre Review: Mary and Me

Everyman, Cork


By Colette Sheridan

Irene Kelleher’s self-penned one-woman show is about a teenage girl, Hannah, who is “mastering the art of being invisible” as she goes through a pregnancy without being able to confide in anyone. This is small town Ireland in 1986.

The play is inspired by the Ann Lovett tragedy in 1984 when a 15-year-old girl gave birth alone at a grotto in Granard, County Longford, and died, along with her infant.

Hannah, played by Kelleher, is feisty, giddy, irreverent and fed up with “Guinness, the GAA and Glenroe”.

Irene Kelleher.

There has to be more to life, she says. She finds solace at a grotto where she talks to the Virgin Mary and to a small statue looking up imploringly at the mother of Jesus.

This is St Bernadette but Hannah thinks it’s Mary Magdalene who was “married to Jesus.”

She fears that she would be shunned by her community for being pregnant, but strangely — and touchingly — Hannah turns to the female element of Catholic lore to vent her feelings and chat, often about inconsequential matters.

She never actually names her condition but feels that the two Marys are non-judgemental.

Despite being reduced to talking to a statue, Hannah doesn’t come across as lonely. She has friends, including a boyfriend.

It seems odd that she can’t even confide in her contemporaries but there is a code of silence in the uptight ‘respectable’ society she lives in. A society that may well be still alive in parts of rural Ireland.

It’s a valley of “squinty” windows, says Hannah, referencing the Brinsley MacNamara novel.

The writing is occasionally humorous and while it’s heartfelt, it is also cliched at times.

Kelleher imitates a strict nun and a nosey neighbour, presenting the audience with these familiar stock characters rather than anything original. The play could do with more nuance.

Hannah has two interests; art and aviation, in particular, the pioneering pilot, Amy Johnson. This historical character supplies Kelleher with a handy metaphor.

Hannah declares that she wants to soar and fly high in the clouds. But is that possible for this spirited girl who has transgressed?

Upcoming performances of Mary and Me include Castleblaney April 12; Listowel, May 2; and Galway, May 31

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