Mary and the Murderer review by David Casey
Seen 15th May
Performance season from 15th to 24th May, at Duhig Gardens, University of Queensland
Mary and the Murderer is much like a Hollywood western – bold, a lot of fun, and disinterested in subtlety.
Mary, an infamous gunslinger and bounty hunter, has come to town to collect on a bounty on travelling musician Colin. He is accused of multiple murders of young women, primarily the recent death of a local girl in this here very town. Mary would love to put a bullet in his head, but he is protected by Mr. Gallagher, who insists he go free due to the lack of evidence. It is up to you, dear audience, how this shakes out: kill him or spare him?
The aesthetics of the show are fabulous – the costume design, accents, complimentary pre-show refreshments and the acting is all of exceptional quality and indicative of the time, passion and talent poured into the production. The product is a very fun performance, especially to see in groups so you can argue with them about how they voted. If all of the above sounds exciting to you, see the show. I say this now as opposed to at the end of the review, because I do love this concept, and want it to garner the success it needs to undergo further development in order to iron out the kinks in the immersive mechanics of the performance.
In terms of the venue, the decision to perform at UQ was a little jarring, given that we were to believe we were in the wild west on the borders of civilization in a lawless town, despite the fact the backdrop was a prestigious sandstone building, surrounded by the soundscape of a still quite active university and nearby roads. This dissonance between the world of the show and the real world is emblematic of the problem with Mary and the Murderer‘s immersivity as a whole.
The best way to demonstrate this is with my experience. Upon entry, you are directed to Tammy’s saloon for a free drink, where you interact with an in-world character and score some ice tea. You begin as an in-world entity. Then, you sit down and are given complimentary popcorn by someone not in character, the most symbolic food possible to suggest you are about to watch a show. You are now in Brisbane. Then, the show begins with Colin begging the audience for a place to hide from Mary, who proceeds to chase him out of the audience, arrest, and drag him to the stage. You’re in the wild west. As the show continues, the fourth wall creeps back up with only occasional jokes or moments of leaning on the fourth wall. You’re back in Brisbane. Then, in a moment of quiet, Colin tries to convince a member of the audience to come on stage and free him. You’re back in the Wild West. This pattern continues the entirety of the performance, constantly fluctuating between distancing the audience and encouraging them to contribute. In that moment where Colin asks an audience member to free him, I had no idea if this was a moment where that audience member could stand and free him, or if it was just another moment of playing with the audience, like in a comedy or clowning routine. At no point in the performance did I understand what the performer-audience relationship was supposed to be, who we the audience were supposed to be in-world, or even if we were supposed to be in-world or behind a fourth wall observing a performance. It seemed that all these characteristics changed without warning more than once throughout the show.
In terms of the show’s hook, the choice to kill or save Colin, I would be interested to see the results of this show’s season. On the night I saw the performance, the audience elected to spare him, and he hobbled off with Mr. Gallagher. This was how I voted; I feel likely as a result of growing up in a culture that does not support the death penalty more than anything that occurred in the performance. Despite the lack of evidence, I thought Colin was likely guilty, but I doubt even if I was certain that I would vote for his execution. If there had been an option to imprison him for later trial, I would have voted for that in a heartbeat, though understandably its unlikely this would happen in the wild west the performance portrays.
I know a lot of this review has been dedicated to criticism, but don’t get me wrong, I love this idea, and almost like an experiment, I only wish I could see this show over and over again with slight tweaks each time to see how the audience responds differently to what stimulus. This has fantastic potential and I sincerely hope the team pick it back up for further development.