In Loving Memory of Mary Mort

Aug 25 2023 | By More

★★☆☆☆     Semi-formed surrealism

Greenside @ Nicholson Square (Venue 209): 14 – 26 Aug 2023
Review by Tom Ralphs

Taking over the vast space that is Greenside’s Emerald Theatre and filling it with nothing in the way of a set is one of the many unusual things about In Loving Memory of Mary Mort from Cod Liver Theatre.

Set largely underneath the gravestones at Highgate Cemetery, it’s a play that delights in pushing its absurdity levels up to 10 and higher.

Ruby Martyn, Anna Yarwood and Jemima Sunley. Pic: Cod Liver Theatre

Opening with a mourner (Tom Goddard) who could be mistaken for an 18th century peasant were it not for the fact that he is describing the death of a woman killed by a car that also led to the near collapse of a house.

Goddard superbly sets the scene of weirdness with his delivery moving from pious and pleading to desperate and confrontational as he comes in close to members of the audience and works through the notes and photos he has of Mary’s death.

Who Mary (Ruby Martyn) is is never really explained, but she appears to be some sort of messiah-like figure who’s arrival is eagerly awaited by at least half the residents of Highgate Cemetery. The first of these is Lucian Freud (Ted Ackery) initially portrayed as a humble and afflicted road sweeper, for reasons that are never really clear.


The same is true of the decision to make George Elliot (Oliva Martin) a paper pushing office clerk who could have come from a failed attempt to drag Dickens into the 21st century. Whatever history or research is behind the choices of scriptwriters Oscar Clark and Archie Turnbull, if there is any, is unknown.

In opposition to Mary after she hears voices telling her to turn the caves and tunnels underneath the cemetery into something open plan, is the headstone of Karl Marx (Anna Yarwood) supported by two grave diggers (Turnbull and Jemina Sunley) who still idolise the founder of the communist party and tend to the ground around his grave.

Anna Yarwood. Pic: Cod Liver Theatre

Martyn has the hardest task in the play as the character of Mary is poorly defined. Suffering a seemingly meaningless suburban death, given little or no back story and assigned a role in the afterlife that seems to be based on nothing, it would be hard for any performer to flesh out the role beyond the inconclusive script. Martyn makes the best of the hand she is dealt.

Similarly, the other members of the cast make the most of the roles they are given under Clark and Turnbull’s direction, bringing out the absurd tics of their characters to make them exaggerated caricatures, but this only adds to the feeling that this is a play that never moved beyond being a premise and a list of character descriptions, of which the central character was almost an afterthought.

This is a shame as there seems to be a very inventive and original idea that it’s trying to convey, and in the first half of the play, at least, there are some very funny moments, but it fails to get beyond this and can’t sustain its momentum on absurdity alone.

Running time: 55 minutes (no interval)
Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Emerald Theatre), 25 Nicolson Square, EH8 9BX (Venue 209)
Monday 14 – Saturday 26 August 2023
Daily (not Sun 20): 7.50pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Company instagram: @codlivertheatre


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