Walking 500m down George Street on Friday 8th May, 2015—from Brisbane Square, where a local radio station event was in full swing, to the heritage-listed Harris Terrace—I felt I had been taken back to the Brisbane of 150 years ago. The Flowers Theatre Company production of The Mayne Effect takes place in one of the few tiny pockets of post-colonial heritage buildings still remaining in Brisbane. The director/producer (Gabriella Flowers), and writer/producer (Emily Vascotto), invite us to step back in time and reflect on the treatment of the Mayne family, and the effect of the rumours swirling around the deathbed confession of Patrick Mayne. The production uses the beautiful Georgian Heritage listed building to great effect. Instead of watching the action unfold on a conventional stage, the director moves the audience through a number of the rooms in the property, enabling us to watch life in the Moorlands family home. The play opens a window into the full horror of living under the threat of inheriting the family madness, and living a life where marriage is not an option. The cast drew us in to the motivations and lives of each of the siblings, as we see their own experiences from the inside. The true horror of the pressures faced by each of the siblings was also powerfully shown on the visit of Florence (Olivia Hall-Smith). Hall-Smith’s portrayal gives us a wonderful insight in an outsiders’ view of the lives the family led, when Florence comes to see her beau, William (Kyle Barrett), and friend, Mary Emilia (Raechyll French).
Many Brisbane residents will be familiar with The Mayne Inheritance, a popular book by Rosamond Siemon which was also adapted by Errol O’Neill as The Mayne Inheritance : A Play (First performed at the La Boite theatre in 2004). The deathbed confession of Patrick Mayne, and agreement by his children that they would not marry, resulted in philanthropy that has had a major influence on Brisbane and Queensland. The Mayne Effect encourages the audience to reflect not only on the treatment of the Mayne children, but to question the nature of the rumours that surrounded their family—and even whether what we know as history might be ‘true.’
The Mayne Effect is well-served by its cast of seven actors, most of whom take on more than one role. Paul Harper-Green draws out the light and dark of the character of Patrick Mayne—with the tenderness of his relationship with his wife and the robust nature of his life as a butcher. Each of the siblings is created as a believable and distinct character, each with their own approach to dealing with the family tragedy. We feel the joy and pain of William and Florence. I found the act where Rosa (Chloe Ingall) and Issac (Nicholas Ryan) sat around the kitchen table particularly confronting, as we see the frustration and sorrow of the two older children. Equally, the act where James (Marshall Stay) and Mary Emilia are sitting in their parlour as they receive the news of Issac’s death, shows the pressures faced by the two remaining children.
I for one will be popping back in to look at the portraits of James and Mary Emilia Mayne in the The Mayne Centre that bears their name, and be re-reading The Mayne Inheritance. Congratulations to each of the members of the cast, and to all involved with the debut show of the Flowers Theatre Company. I look forward to seeing where their next production in Brisbane takes us.