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by on 15 January 2018

Skilful Subtle Dark Comedy


by Sarah MacGillivray and Phil Bartlett

Old Sorting Office, Barnes, 11th and 12th January

Review by Eleanor Lewis

In a previous review last year, I enthused about how fabulous actors are. I’d been to see a new play in a tiny little theatre over a pub in Camden on one of the hottest days of the year, and just after the Grenfell fire. Three actors gave it their all while their audience sat on benches (at least it felt like benches) in the dark, ready for a new experience and to be taken out of themselves. The Leviathan we call The Arts has to keep moving forward but it’s a frustrating and only intermittently rewarding working life for the actors and writers who make that happen. A sweaty pub in Camden (welcoming and civilised though it was) is a long way from the thrill of the West End.


Sarah MacGillivray and Phil Bartlett’s new play Marie is mainly concerned with one of these ‘key workers’. Though described in the publicity as “a darkly comic new play inspired by the life of Mary Queen of Scots”, it isn’t really. It’s definitely a darkly comic new play but whether it’s inspired so much by the life of Mary Queen of Scots or the grindingly frustrating life of young actors trying to get a break is at least a moot point.

The play is the story of two women. Chirpy landlady Liz runs a London pub with her husband Barry. Marie, an aspiring actress from Edinburgh, arrives at the pub after a difficult first couple of hours in the capital and is given a job and a home. From then on Marie pursues acting jobs and Liz runs weekly history nights at the pub at which people turn up as costumed, historical characters and do some sort of ‘turn’.

Marie encounters the usual difficulties whilst going to auditions, including a misdescribed porn film, but begins to enjoy playing Mary Queen of Scots at the pub’s history night. Eventually a recall from the RSC yields a job and from then on there’s a gentle but significant change in pace. Events begin to take their toll on Marie in disturbing ways that would amount to spoilers if described here. Suffice to say that what starts as an endearing tale ramps up into something that might have resulted from a collaboration between Hitchcock and Alan Bennett.


Being a one-woman show, Sarah MacGillivray plays all parts, switching from London Liz to Edinburgh Marie with occasional interventions from husband Barry and various other characters. MacGillivray is a skilful, subtle actor, she does justice to the tight, focussed writing and draws her audience gradually closer without making either main character needy or unsympathetic. In one of the OSO’s studio spaces, alone on stage under soft lighting with only a tea towel and a glass for support, this is an impressive performance.

(The tea towel and the glass for most of the time were the only props (aside from a chair) and used exclusively by Liz, which made the transfer between characters slightly unbalanced, Marie, I think, would have benefitted from a prop of some sort – bag maybe? – to make the change of identity a little sharper.)

Marie is a great piece of writing, well performed and at little over an hour it’s entertaining, funny and time well spent. Recommended.

Eleanor Lewis
January 2018

Photography by Laura Sedgwick and Phil Bartlett


From → Drama, Reviews

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