Reviews are in for Marys Seacole, the latest production staged at the Donmar Warehouse in London.
This is the UK première of Jackie Sibblies Drury’s acclaimed new play, following the sensational run of her play Fairview at the Young Vic.
This production reunites Fairview director Nadia Latif and designer Toim Scutt, and runs at the Donmar Warehouse to 4 June 2022.
Marys Seacole features a talented cast including Déja J. Bowens (Mamie), Llewella Gideon (Duppy Mary), Kayla Meikle (Mary), Esther Smith (Miriam), Olivia Williams (May), and Susan Wooldridge (Merry).
Mary Seacole was the pioneering Jamaican nurse who bravely voyaged to heal soldiers in the Crimean War. She was a traveller, a hotelier and a businesswoman. She was the most impressive woman you’ve ever met. The production explores across oceans and eras what it means to be a woman who is paid to care, and how, ultimately, no one is in charge of their own story.
Reviews are from the Guardian, Telegraph, Evening Standard and more.
Marys Seacole reviews
"The headspinning new play from the author of ‘Fairview’"
"As it happens, ‘Marys Seacole’ is an altogether different affair, which retains the extreme willingness to be awkward that ‘Fairview’ had without quite managing to channel it into the same sort of thrilling conclusion."
"The ‘real’ Mary’s carefully constructed reality falls apart as she attempts to continue her story, but is confounded by the collapsing in of the play’s narrative. But to me it just felt like… a load of cool theatrey stuff happening, in a way that didn’t obviously seem to make a clear point. And honestly, nobody loves cool theatrey stuff more than I do, but while I could hazard a guess at what it all meant (Mary hitting the limits of her own self-constructed existence?) it all feels messy and diffuse, a string of familiar avant-garde parlour tricks in lieu of the sort of virtuosic ending ‘Fairview’ had.
"Nonetheless, it does nothing to detract from the fact Drury is one of the most fascinating US playwrights out there. Even her failures would probably have more ideas than most other playwrights’ successes, and ‘Marys Seacole’ is a long way from a failure."
"Mystifying drama about caring through the ages"
"Despite strong performances, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play zigzags so much that it overshadows the remarkable life at its centre"
"The point about care and economic slavery is a crucial one, but the mother’s diatribe takes in the entire breadth of “white man terror” (from white supremacy to police violence) and it feels like a play speaking aloud all the racial ills of society in one gasping breath, using this character, and its finale, as a mouthpiece.
"She [Mary Seacole] is made gloriously flesh and blood by Kayla Meikle, a magnetic force who speaks in patois (or “patwah” as it is written in the script). Meikle keeps us hanging on her every word as she narrates a story that jumbles up character and chronology on Tom Scutt’s non-naturalistic stage, but does not carry a big enough payoff. The cast as a whole excels, playing multiple parts with deliberately overblown emotions and archness."
"It also leaves us with a sense that the figure of Mary Seacole is a vehicle used to explore our current-day issues too nakedly rather than a study of a singular life and its forgotten achievements."
"A challenging, time-bending introduction to the other Florence Nightingale"
"This frustrating, compelling drama at the Donmar boasts a fantastic lead performance by Kayla Meikle as a nurse who heads to the Crimean War"
"Criss-crossing time frames, strong Jamaican accents and multiple themes make this a challenging play to keep a firm grasp on as its realism becomes increasingly distorted, but it is also sharply funny in places. In a prelude to the pandemonium of the Crimean war front featuring mannequins as the corpses of soldiers, Mamie, a trainee nurse, is thrown into the deep end of extreme triage following a mass shooting. It’s a truly hilarious scene in which all the actors shine, but it’s Meikle’s command of comic timing that truly makes the scene pop."
"Despite the frustratingly opaque storytelling, Marys Seacole is really worth a look."
"Muddled drama takes too long to make its point"
"Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play has a compelling and topical premise - but the result is haphazard"
"Exploring a pioneering black woman’s experience of working in healthcare is not only a compelling premise but a topical one. But this play, unfortunately, failed to ignite. Seacole’s story probably deserved greater care and respect than this haphazard dramatisation."
"An ambitious tribute to the pioneering nurse of Crimea"
"This kaleidoscopic play is by turns abstruse, amusing, irked, forgiving. Mother-daughter relationships dominate, but it’s only when the lurking ghost of Mary’s disapproving mother (Llewella Gideon) breaks her silence that the show’s ideas about the underestimated role of the black caregiver in white society become overt."
"Not everything in Nadia Latif’s elegant, acerbic, beautifully acted production quite joins up. Is its strange shape, led by theme rather than narrative, a tribute to a woman who wouldn’t be contained by the conventional ways of thinking of her age? It feels as if Drury is a draft away from finding the perfect way to make Seacole’s story both literal and metaphorical in the way she wants to, but this is an ambitious evening that lingers in the memory even so."
"Nadia Latif’s direction is, however, fussy to the point of distraction. The staging excludes the audience, and the creation of some scenes requires the actors to shuffle a range of cumbersome props through the aisles, which pulls focus from the action.
"It’s a shame because the performances are jewel-like. Déja J Bowens makes a confident professional debut as Mamie. Meanwhile, Kayla Meikle steps into her first leading role with the wise energy beyond her years. But it is Llewella Gideon’s delivery of Duppy Mary’s final monologue that stays with you. It arrives just at the right moment with a quiet ferocity that makes you sit up in your seat."