The Story of Mary Maclane By HerselfLeft – Tim Rogers and Bojana Novakovic, Mark Harris (double bass) and Andrew Baylor (violin). Photos – Brett Boardman

Mary Maclane
is fierce – fiercely independent, fiercely defiant, fiercely original. She is constantly yearning, constantly unsatisfied with her lot, constantly craving something she can't quite name. Bojana Novakovic and her team have brought her to life vividly and imaginatively on the Griffin stage. They've distilled the essence of Mary from her published work, and The Story of Mary Maclane By Herself is fascinating, complex, unusual, and highly entertaining.

The real star of this show is, of course, Bojana Novakovic as Mary. Novakovic inhabits the role so entirely that it's difficult to tell where character starts and actor begins: something the show explicitly highlights in a pseudo-Brechtian moment where co-star Tim Rogers reads from Novakovic's, rather than Maclane's, diary. (While I don't think this segment was entirely effective – it didn't quite seem to sit right with the rest of the show – it was certainly thought-provoking.) The Story of Mary Maclane By Herself is a short show at 75 minutes, but in it, we learn so much about Mary: about her lovers (male and female), her writing, her desire for death, and her desire for cold boiled potatoes.

What I found particularly interesting was the way that Mary explicitly resisted historical appropriation. "I am not a feminist," she declares at one point. There's a real sense that Mary wants only to speak over time, over history, but she only wants to speak for herself – she doesn't want to represent feminism, women, people from Butte, Montana, or any other group. She wants her voice to be her own: to be understood as an individual rather than a social representative. The show resists the temptation to go too deeply into history – whether that's Mary's own history or the history of Mary's time, which included the occasionally mentioned World War I – and instead of focuses on Mary herself. For this reason, I think the real Mary Maclane would have enjoyed The Story of Mary Maclane By Herself.

I also really enjoyed the music in this show, provided by Tim Rogers. If anything, I felt like he was underused: while the focus was obviously always going to be Novakovic's Mary, Rogers is such a charismatic and engaging performer that it's hard not to want to see more. His character was not clearly defined, and this was probably the show's biggest flaw: he talks with Mary a lot, and I was never quite sure if he was supposed to be a specific person, representative of a group of people, or a figure entirely outside of Mary's time. All this said, though, Novakovic and Rogers are a dynamite theatrical team, and I hope they collaborate on more shows in the future.

I've never seen a show quite like The Story of Mary Maclane By Herself, and I think that's in keeping with the ferocious individuality of Mary herself. In terms of music and pure entertainment, it's a very good show indeed, but the real reason I loved it so much was the way it engaged with history. The voice of Mary Maclane transcends time and historical context in this show, and that it, I think, just the way she would like it.

Griffin Theatre, Malthouse Theatre, Merrigong Theatre Company and Performing Lines present
The Story of Mary MacLane by Herself
text by Bojana Novakovic | music by Tim Rogers | after the writings of Mary MacLane

Directed by Tanya Goldberg

Venue: SBW Stables Theatre | 10 Nimrod Street, Kings Cross NSW
Dates: 4 April - 12 May 2012
Times: Monday-Friday 7pm | Saturday 2pm and 7pm
Tickets: $49 – $15
Bookings: 02 9361 3817 |

Venue: Gordon Theatre
Dates:  15-19 May

Times: Tues 15 May 6.30pm, Wed 16 - Fri 18 May 7.30pm, Sat 19 May 2.30pm & 7.30pm. Post-show Q&A: Thurs 17 May 7.30pm

Tickets: $49 - $29


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