Mary Rose | Conn Artists Theatre Company| Tour | Review

Mary Rose
Connaught Theatre, Worthing

March 3 2022

Conn Artists Theatre Company in Association with Worthing Theatres & Museum
Directed by Nick Young
Written by J M Barrie
The Connaught Theatre, Worthing

The name J M Barrie will be forever synonymous with that of his most famous children’s book ‘Peter Pan’. And yet how many of us are aware that he was not only a children’s author, penning a significant amount of adult fiction, was a respected playwright – most notably ‘The Admiral Crichton’ – and even dabbled in poetry?

Growing up in Scotland, educated at Dumfries Academy and Edinburgh University, Barrie was the ninth of ten children. ‘Jamie’ as he was known was a keen fisherman and often fished the waters around a small island off the Scottish coast. This was to be the ‘Isle of Mary Rose’ and the inspiration for Barrie’s 1920 play.

It’s always a delight to be in the audience when Conn Artists are appearing at the Connaught, they are the resident company and several of the talented technicians behind the scenes are also very much part of the Conn Artists ‘family’, Simon Parker (Stage Manager) and Matthew Pike (Production & Lighting Designer), both demonstrated their usual high level of skill for this production.

Mary Rose, although often described as a ‘ghost play’, is essentially about grief and the loss of a child, as well as the power of the supernatural, and the questions that might arise about whether such a state exists and if so, the consequences that may befall those who experience it. The play opens with a young soldier (Jake Snowdon) viewing a closed up Sussex mansion and the housekeeper (Jenny Rowe) forbidding him to enter one of the rooms. The soldier falls asleep and the story of Mary Rose gradually unfolds. 11 year old Mary (Evangeline Duncan) had disappeared on the island not once but twice, the second time when she was a young married mother with a son. This time for 25 years. Each time she reappears apparently with no knowledge of having been ‘away’, her behaviour and personality seemingly remaining unaltered, and her ways are immature and childlike. What transpires is an unexplained eerie mystery giving us all great pause for thought about the anguish of loss, and how some people are able eventually to learn ways of acceptance, and others cannot. It’s worth noting that Barrie’s own brother died in a tragic accident at a young age. David Jnr was destined for the ministry and it’s interesting that the ghillie in the story (Ross Muir) also turned out to be studying for the ministry, and unusual for those times, unafraid to be somewhat outspoken.

Ross Muir is a co-founder of Conn Artists and always delivers superb performances, and Evangeline Duncan was wonderfully ethereal as the ever young Mary Rose, however this play was not one of my favourites, sadly. Nothing to do with the acting or production, which were of the usual high standard, however the plot is not one of Barrie’s strongest, I feel. During the late Victorian and Edwardian periods there was a significant amount of obsession with death and the supernatural; a plethora of authors published plays and books on the subject during those years, and beyond. Dickens, M R James, Henry James, Poe and later Susan Hill and James Herbert – to name but a few. Barrie’s ‘Mary Rose’ is entertaining enough on stage, however I didn’t find it created any flesh creeping feelings (think ‘Woman in Black’ etc) or ghostly shivers. Rather it stirred in me more existentialist thoughts, and for that Barrie is to be credited.

Top marks for the production and individual performances, a few less for the plot …..


approx 2.5 hours including interval

Reviewer: Gill Ranson