Sure Foot productions in association with New Theatre present Theresa Rebeck’s fast paced tense and compelling drama Mauritius to Sydney audiences for the first time. The play is on stage until July 29, 2017 at New Theatre in Newtown, an inner west suburb of Sydney.
After their mother’s death, two estranged half-sisters Jackie (Kitty Hopwood) and Mary (Emma Louise) discover a book of rare stamps that may include the crown jewel for collectors.
One sister tries to collect on the windfall, while the other resists for sentimental reasons.
In this gripping narrative what appears a simple transaction at first becomes extremely dangerous as three sordid, high stakes collectors Dennis (Peter-William Jamieson), Philip (Andy Simpson) and Sterling (Brett Heath) enter the sisters’ world. These three dodgy fellows are willing to do anything to claim the rare find as their own.
Don’t read any more if you don’t want spoilers
Mauritius is a tale of desperation, avarice and deception where plots and counter plots are cleverly and continuously forged to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.
The characters are flawed and convincingly delivered. The dialogue and personality traits conspire to create a thrilling drama that is reflective of our current world’s obsession with wealth and material goods.
The egocentric undertones build to a crescendo of aggression, ugliness and betrayal. The characters elicit our sympathy and our wrath. These ambiguous responses make for a very rewarding and exciting theatre experience.
The five characters are damaged and driven, often seemingly fragile belying their capacity to thwart plans and overcome adversity through conceiving unscrupulous responses and cleverly calculated schemes. The possession of these rare stamps becomes an obsessive drive that often over rides reason.
It’s always fascinating to discover the rationale behind a playwright’s decision to write about certain themes, ideas and content. In Robert Simonson’s theatre article in the New York Times from 2007 he writes “Ms. Rebeck stumbled upon the subject matter of “Mauritius” while she was avoiding work.
One day, weary of writing, she began to surf the Internet and landed on a page itemizing the soon-to-be-auctioned stamp collection of a Spanish lord. “I became really fascinated by how beautiful the stamps were, and how strange and historic and utterly valuable,” she said.
She began to delve into the world of philately and to puzzle over the monomania that fed its enthusiasts. “It became clear that there was some kind of hunger in these people that the collection of objects answered. I found that mysterious and moving — why that thing would satisfy your spirit in a deep and meaningful way.”
Taking its title from the ‘Blue Mauritius,’ one of the world’s rarest and most valuable stamps, Mauritius was the Broadway writing debut for Pulitzer Prize nominee Theresa Rebeck (Smash, Seminar, NYPD Blue, Law & Order: Criminal Intent). Originally produced at Boston’s Huntington Theatre, it received the 2007 IRNE Award for Best New Play as well as the Elliot Norton Award.
Her writing prudently discerns the truth about her characters as she develops a powerful picture of motivation, deception and transformation. She demonstrates in Mauritius a fine knowledge not only of her characters but the play resonates with the literary expertise of a playwright who has written so successfully in a variety of genres. She is according to Christine Sumption “attuned to her heart, dedicated to her craft.”
Theresa Rebeck wrote passionately and convincingly in an article for the Los Angeles Times. “Structure is not our enemy, it is the form that makes content possible; it is the meaning that holds the image and imbues it with specificity; specificity is not our enemy; intellect without heart is not more, it is less and in the theater sometimes less is just less. Contemporary playwrights don’t need to toss away all that has come before us, nor could we if we even tried.”
Richard Cornally has crafted Rebeck’s intention with authenticity and commitment in his direction. He has astutely interpreted the script, defining the style, mood, pace and climatic tension.
Cornally’s vision for focusing on the play itself is transferred to the simplicity and understatement of Rhys William Nicolson’s set design. The set unobtrusively supports the story and provides a balance to the dynamic, acerbic dialogue and shifting action of the play. This balance intensifies the evolving story line and emotional and vocal responses within the performances.
Kitty Hopwood’s well defined portrayal of Jackie as she transforms from naïve young women to a shrewd operator is poignantly communicated. She effectively conveys the nuances of a range of emotional interactions, disappointments and triumphs.
Jackie’s relationship with her sister Mary is tenuous and Emma Louise delivers the hard-nosed calculating, cunning and detached sisterly presence and expression on stage. Her discerning performance intensifies the competitive turmoil that rages below the surface for Mary.
Andy Simpson successfully balances the arrogance, intellectual rhetoric and brewing sinister response to past escapades within the character of Philip. His nonchalant appearance is deceiving and renders premeditated actions all the more surprising.
Intrigue is skillfully conveyed by Peter-William Jamieson as Dennis in the first scene as he makes a remarkable discovery. His initial analysis of Jackie’s character “this girl is a lamb” is essential to the disconcerting later actions and confrontations. Jamieson inhabits his character with all Dennis’s flaws and relentless capacity for orchestrating scams.
Brett Heath’s role as Sterling the unscrupulous and wealthy philatelist is passionate and articulate. He oozes a raw energy with his menacing voice that registers tonal variations with aplomb. Heath confidently and intelligently communicates unbridled anger that explodes in his sardonic conversations and violent acts. He has accurately and perceptively portrayed ruthless human behavior.
Mauritius is an insightful drama that creates an entertaining theatrical experience sustained with gripping tension and absorbing structure. The assembly of performers is charged with emotionally fraught encounters that are both disturbing and intriguing.
Rose Niland, NSW Special Features, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
542 King Street, Newtown
12 July – 29 July
DIRECTOR Richard Cornally
PRODUCER Kitty Hopwood
SET DESIGNER Rhys Nichols
LIGHTING DESIGNER Louise Mason
COMPOSER/SOUND DESIGNER Ned McPhie