“Beautiful works of literature are not easily transformed into theatre without some significant amount of artistic licence being used,” says Gary Abrahams, who transformed several of Katherine Mansfield’s accomplished short stories into Something Natural But Very Childish. The transformation may not have been easy, but the artistic licence Abrahams used is almost invisible, deftly blending seven characters, 12 stories and their themes to bring Mansfield’s work to the stage.
Mansfield spent most of her adult life in London, having escaped provincial New Zealand, and died in 1923, aged just 34, leaving behind 88 short stories. Heavily influenced by Chekhov, her work is beautifully crafted, insightful and full of wit. From it, Abrahams has created three narratives about love—love imagined, promised, discovered, thwarted, gone stale – which have been brought elegantly to life by an impressive cast in the tiny space of La Mama’s Faraday St theatre.
The play revolves around three couples constrained by the manners and reserve of Edwardian England—the whimsical, infatuated Henry and his love Edna; Mr and Mrs Bullen, whose toxic relationship is stretched to breaking point; and Anne, with her nervous giggle, and the reticent, smitten Reggie. A seventh character, Mr Peacock, singing teacher, remains on stage as a pianist for some of the proceedings, providing a jovial soundtrack to journeys by carriage and train. Although the characters’ agendas and certain events have been adapted, the play is true to Mansfield’s wit, nuance and sense of tragedy.
This is a terrific production, full of warmth, energy and charm, and it sent me running to my bookshelf to revisit the Mansfield collections I bought second-hand as an undergraduate. But audiences unfamiliar with Mansfield’s work should not be deterred—no prior knowledge or appreciation is required to enjoy this play. This is a thoroughly engaging and utterly charming night of theatre.
Until Sunday, 20 June 2010