The first time I read a short story by Katherine Mansfield, I was left feeling simultaneously warm and cold, tears pouring down my cheeks. Similar emotions swirled over me by the end of the second story. Her writing is exquisite and perceptive, honing in on the peculiarities of what makes us human.
Like Mansfield's stories, the hour-long play is seemingly simple, yet layered with meaning. The character of Mansfield, played by Rosanna Easton, presents her life to the audience in form of a monologue. As the play unfolds, we catch glimpses of her colourful life which inform us of how she viewed the world. She was not meek, she was not submissive and she most definitely was not boring.
At times, Easton slipped into "theatrical over-acting" of which I am not a fan, however, her performance overall was engaging. At times, Katherine read to the audience snatches of her diary entries or her short stories. Easton's delivery was spot on, her intonations and movements built the world in which the characters lived. She was especially gifted at capturing the spirit of the little girls in the story 'Prelude'.
John Middleton Murray, played by Alex Bryant-Smith, commences and concludes the play by addressing the audience. The remainder of the time he leant against a wall, observing and silently responding to Mansfield's life. This is a befitting role, as he was a significant character in Mansfield's life, having been briefly her husband.
An interesting device which director Ashley Hawkes has added to the play is live cello music, performed by Simeon Johnson. Seated by the stage, Johnson plays intermittently throughout the play, at times highlighting the melancholy of Mansfield's situation, at others fuelling her rage and sometimes providing a touch of comedy. When Katherine describes coughing with a fellow patient in hospital, Johnson plucks two strings to represent the two coughers.
The play assumes at least a basic knowledge of her life. The fundamental point of knowledge are that she was born in New Zealand, but spent many years in England and Europe, she had numerous affairs, was acquainted with many famous writers of the day and died in 1923 at age 34. My theatre companion later confessed she was confused at moments as she was not at all familiar with the events of Mansfield's life.
The bar in which the theatre is located is delightful. Mr Falcon's has filled out an old terrace, with rooms of period furniture and ornaments. The theatre was set in an upstairs room and it would be wise to enter the room as soon as the doors open, otherwise you may find yourself standing up the back.
If you don't have the time to see the play, I highly recommend reading some of her stories.