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St Mary's In Exile - Queensland Theatre Company

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
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Living the myth

Less than a kilometre from the Billie Brown theatre is the actual St Mary's church, where much of the action of "St Mary's in Exile" takes place.

It is a timely reminder that the skill and observation of the artist can make actual into universal, specific into archetype.

Nor can this reviewer remember ever before being in a theatre when characters being represented on stage were in actuality in the audience.

"It wasn't me, altogether" said Father Peter "but it is a very good play".

It almost is.

Certainly, the two priests closely resemble their doppelgangers, in appearance and in mannerisms.

And the action of the play lets us wonder whether the rebellion of Father Peter is a product of humble yet determined application of ideals, or whether sheer stubbornness and arrogance underpins his intransigence.

Add to this that the theologies of Fathers Peter and Terry would cause less hide-bound organisations than the Catholic Church no little concern, though the practical out-workings unqualified support and acceptance of the marginalised, especially the LGBT community, aboriginals and the homeless are clearly both admirable and confronting.

To compress decades of action into a couple of hours must necessarily involve tinkering with timelines, and reworking some scenarios. For instance, Archbishop Battersby in actuality was probably less focused and less consistent that his on stage representation.

This play has evolved from consultation with the St Mary's community, and is all the better for it.

However, it has some of the characteristics of a work in progress.

The Q and A scene, for instance, which morphs from a confrontation between Father Peter and his opponents to a farcical albeit very funny Tony Abbott send-up, is in danger of undermining the momentum of the play, and could benefit from a revision.

That said, it would be a pity if this play did not have a wider exposure than its Brisbane season.

This depiction of people who acted locally has global significance, particularly in the light of the stance of Pope Francis, who clearly values application of Christian love much more than strict adherence to formal orthodoxies.

How ironic if a turbulent renegade priest could become Brisbane's Archbishop Helder Camara and this play become another "Becket'".

It is well worth seeing, and with a little more work could be a very memorable play.

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Why? Local drama with global depth
When: 27 Sept to 25 October
Where: Billie Brown Studio, QTC
Cost: $33 - $50
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