One-woman show mapping a personal fascination with the Virgin Mary to be shown in Derry
Derry-born spoken word artist, multi-media artist and theatre maker Mel Bradley is taking her one-woman play to Echo Echo Studios on Thursday.
Viewed through the lens of a displaced woman from a Protestant/Unionist background who has spent more of her life living in Nationalist areas, ‘For The Love of Mary’ is a one-woman show mapping a personal fascination with the Virgin Mary and her lost humanity, rediscovered in the stories shared by women living in Ireland.
Mel said: "Originally, this project was going to be almost like a documentary, where I would meet with people through Zoom and hear their stories. Then, it became a realisation that my pursuit for Mary came from something that was far, far deeper. So, it’s now my journey to find Mary through these women. It’s very autobiographical. I talk about my Unionist upbringing and about my father being in the RUC. I lived in the Fountain with my mother and in 1996, Drumcree happened and we were put out of our home and rehomed in the Brandywell. I was completely displaced from my identity and had to create a new identity. I talk about having to find and listen to the stories of other people in another community, in another life, in another culture, that was completely alien to what I knew. I learned the stories of women, because it was always women that I sat with in the Women’s Aid refuge, who shared their table with me and their food. When I lived in the Brandywell, I had been there for about a year when I got a knock on the door and the nextdoor neighbour told me, “you’ve been here for a year now and you haven’t had a drink with us. You get up them stairs, get some shoes on you and come in and sit down with us.”
"I knew nothing of Bloody Sunday. I knew nothing of the troubles from the other side. When we stop an dlisten, the stories that uncover parts of ourselves offer healing and a chance to connect in a way we never thought we could. So, the play is about this, almost misappropriated figure, that is used in such a way that diminishes womanhood on all sides. From a Protestant side, she’s nothing but a woman who gave birth to Jesus – he’s everything. On the Catholic side, she’s this perfect embodiment of motherhood and this idea that we never, ever live up to. So, here in Ireland we’re faces with two sides of one coin and that coin says that women are nothing. So, when I set out to do this, I wanted to show how important the stories of women are. Women’s stories never get told and I wanted to give them certain stage.
“The play is inspired by real life stories, so one story is inspired by two women who I interviewed, who both brought up the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned the water into wine. They’re both super grounded and amazing women so one character is based on both of them. There’s another character who’s based on a woman who was in a mother and baby home, Marianvale, and it’s based on her experience there. I was blown away by her story and her compassion - she wasn’t angry. You have an idea in your head of how someone who was in that situation is going to be and it wasn’t like that. That threw me, how overwhelming her compassion was. Then, there’s Wee Megan. Wee Megan is my favourite character that I’ve ever got to play because she’s about every woman who wanted to be Mary in the school Nativity play. The story is a friend who was super excited because she was the only one in her school who actually knew the nativity story and she wanted to be Mary. She then found out that Mary doesn’t actually have any lines. Megan draws on things from me when I was a child because I was always an angel in the play. I always had to wear the stupid tinsel. You start to realise, then, that Mary really doesn’t have a voice and you never get to actually hear what she has to say.
"The final piece is Mary actually talking and it’s Mary’s prayer to the women of Ireland about all of the atrocities that have been committed in her name and her complicit nature in it of being silent and not intervening. That part is entirely as Gaeilge.
"A friend of mine came to see the show with his partner and afterwards, he said that he enjoyed the play but that he’s not my target audience. But he is. This is stuff that women already know. We need men to hear this and it’s not that we’re asking you for a solution, it’s not that we’re asking you to be a saviour or to do anything other than give space and listen.
"The play will be going on tour next year, which is nice because it’s the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it’s the 40th anniversary of the 8th amendment and the 5th of the Repeal the 8th. It’s also the 50th anniversary of the Employment of Married Women in the Civil Service Act. There’s so many anniversaries which relate to things that come up in the show.”
For the Love of Mary will be shown on Thursday, October 6 in Echo Echo Studios and tickets are available here.