Marjorie Prime

Marjorie Prime
By Jordan Harrison. Ensemble Theatre, Sydney. Director: Mitchell Butel. 15 June – 21 July 2018

Maggie Dence plays two characters in this touching drama about memory and aging: Marjorie and Prime Marjorie. In the first she is 85 and fast failing, lost in her past playing the violin, missing her husband dead for 10 years. In the second she is revived, her face is freshly painted, her attention centred on giving comfort to her fraught daughter Tess. Such are the wonders provided by Senior Serenity, the company who serve Primes to this futuristic Philip K. Dickian world.

Best not to ask too many questions about the setup. Author Jordan Harrison is much more concerned with his characters and how they interrelate, with Tess (Lucy Bell) and her husband Jon (Richard Sydenham) and how they deal with the aging parent. ‘It’s always nice to be lied to,’ says Marjorie. She’s got a Prime, too, a lovely man who accurately represents her husband Walter in his mid-thirties (Jake Speer).

It’s Tess who takes our attention, and Bell, with flashing eyes and uncertain smile, gives a compelling account of her descent. Dence, in her first embodiment of Marjorie, sliding in and out of memory, is also first rate. You could tell she was once a bit of a handful.

The sweeping setting by Simon Greer is a problem. Austere and formal, it never represents Tess’s domesticity and the cast have to be uncomfortable scene shifters and prop deliverers throughout. Even Marjorie must do her share.

But the audience listened intently throughout, and were rewarded by a final scene of quiet calm, where the computer programs rested, waiting for their next move.

Congratulations to the Ensemble (and Mark Kilmurry) for bagging this recent off-Broadway piece. It’s a cracker.

Frank Hatherley

Photographer: Lisa Tomasetti

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