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Ballarat National Theatre

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PERFORMANCE DATES

Performance Dates
Gala Night Saturday 18th April - 8 pm
Matinée Sunday 19th April – 2 pm
Then 22nd, 23rd, 24th & 25th April - 8 pm

SYNOPSIS

This intriguing play was an award-winning Broadway hit, running for over five hundred performances, before becoming an Oscar winning film staring Jane Fonda and Anne Bancroft.

When Agnes, a young naive nun is discovered in her convent cell with the body of a new-born child a court-appointed psychiatrist has to determine the girl's state of mind. When meeting Agnes and the Mother Superior she becomes convinced that there is more going on than a simple open & shut case of insanity. Does Agnes have multiple personalities? Is she truly an innocent?

The Ballarat cast features Letecia Frost, Pamela Maiden, Mary-Rose McLaren and is directed by Julian Oldfield.

REVIEW

REVIEWER - SUSAN PILBEAM

Initially this investigation of the birth and immediate murder of a child in an isolated convent seems like a classic 'whodunit'. Mother Superior is scared of a scandal but she surely knows more. Strangely, the young nun-mother denies the baby's very existence, remembering nothing. The Court appointed Psychiatrist soon becomes deeply involved. As the story unravels, so do the three characters. Through interviews, hypnosis, flashbacks and fragments of memory, each woman's view of fact, faith and fallacy is revealed and challenged.

This award winning Broadway play gives each performer wonderful opportunities, the characters are emotionally complex, the language ranges from the everyday to the poetic and the mood constantly shifts, from gentle humor to harrowing conflict. This trio of actors works well together, complementing and supporting each other's interpretations. Dr Martha Livingstone (Mary-Rose McLaren) begins directly addressing the audience; she is our way in, providing context and connection. Symbolic of the outside world, she is a lapsed Catholic and Atheist. Her views and emerging inner conflicts are expressed clearly, but she is often trapped, literally behind her desk, or as the voice of rationality and science, not always eliciting sympathy. As the contrasting voice of faith, Mother Superior Miriam Ruth, (Pamela Maiden) has passion and strength. In this complex role she uses stillness and small physical and facial gestures to great effect. Her moral conflicts imbue the character with thoughtfulness and warmth. In her first appearance with the BNT Letecia Frost as Agnes is the image of rosy cheeked innocence and convincing in her naive openness, confusion and truthful humor. As her history surfaces, she has the difficult challenge of playing rapid shifts from the demure to hearing voices and becoming hysterical.

The simple uncluttered set and costumes combine with effective lighting design to communicate changes in time and place and create an intimate yet formal feel, where the focus is on the characters. Julian Oldfield's clean direction makes the performers eloquent in their space and stillness, yet also giving room for confrontation, of each other and their inner demons. Song is integral to the work and beautiful unaccompanied voice heightens the atmosphere. Agnes of God is a thoughtful work that engages the audience on many levels. Its cohesive cast navigates many moods and provides a catalyst for considering significant questions about religious and scientific belief.

 

REVIEWER - DEBORAH FABBRO - THEATRECRAFT

The play, Agnes of God, raises many questions about faith, morality and life for the three characters involved. While it does not really answer all the questions it poses, it offers an engrossing journey for the audience as these women clash about the issues.
At the centre of this play is the young Sister Agnes who has been accused of the murder of a child she has given birth to while a nun in the convent. She claims to have no knowledge of either the birth or how she came to be pregnant.

Psychiatrist, Dr Martha Livingstone is appointed by the Court to determine whether Sister Agnes is mentally fit to stand trial. As their interview sessions progress, Dr Livingstone becomes involved, not only with the determination of Agnes, but also with confronting demons of her own. She has a protagonist in Agnes Mother Superior who has Agnes' best interests at heart but also is moulded by her doctrine and personal past.

Julian Oldfield's wealth of experience was evident in this sensitively directed production. He has been able to draw the best from each of the cast and they perform their difficult and demanding roles with great skill to produce an engrossing and enthralling production.

Letecia Frost was excellent as Agnes and captured the childlike and innocent qualities of the character while at the same time giving little hints, particularly as we hear about her childhood, of darker forces that torment her mind Mother Miriam Ruth, as played by Pamela Maiden, was at once serene and pragmatic, as would befit a Mother Superior, then fierce in her protection of Agnes. The scenes when she 'does battle' with Dr Livingstone over issues of religion and science were finely wrought. Her retort "A miracle has no explanation" to Dr Livingstone's "Give me an explanation" appropriately presented the blind faith theism of the order.

The role of Dr Martha Livingstone is a very demanding one as there are only a couple of very short flashback scenes when she is not part of the action. Rose McLaren was excellent as she moved through the emotions of the character from world-weary scientist and atheist to cynical lapsed Catholic and ultimately the softer, soul-searching friend and confidant of Agnes.

The simple setting of the desk and two chairs for the psychiatrist's office and the light shaft through a convent window and ecclesiastic candle for the convent nicely paralleled and reflected the similarity of both the nun's austere existence and the cold clinical world of a psychiatrist. The symbolism is, of course, that both are stripped and their beliefs laid bare for scrutiny.

I have only two criticisms of this production. While I understand that perhaps smoking is not permitted in the venue, there should have been a better way to portray the idea of Dr Livingstone's chain smoking and at least clear the discarded cigarettes between scenes. The other point, in today's age of technological wizardry, there is no need for a performer to call for and get a prompt, audible to the audience. By the time a production is due to open, a director would be aware if an actor is unsure of lines and a discreet wire could have been used.

The trip to Ballarat to view this thought-provoking production was well worth it.