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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Maria (The Old Hairdressers)

Updated: Feb 28

Mary Magdalene reintroduced, but not revived

Think you know_____? Well, think again! Perhaps it is a trope that theatre makers like to reinvent historical, mythical, or fictional figures, but it is only because solo performances are such a perfect medium for it. No other art form can make such debated, ineffable figures seem so tangible. And so it is with Maria, a dance theatre piece by Neféli (who goes by her first name only), which confronts centuries-old misconceptions of Mary Magdalene, whose supposed prostitution and insanity are never mentioned in the Bible.

Neféli’s characterisation of Mary Magdalene is not just communicated through dance, but using dance as a metaphor. As the performance begins we see her limber up on stage, psyching herself up to become this flirtatious, shallow character for her waiting audience. As she takes up the role (posing, pouting, dragging on a cigarette like a vintage pin-up doll) she loses any sense of herself she had in her preparation. But as we peel back her layers, we see her earnest, much-overlooked sensitivity and devotion. By the end, she is laughing at her audience for believing her at face value, for buying that persona. It is clever, but more importantly, it is convincing. Neféli has a magnetic stage presence, and here every movement feels deliberate and meaningful.

As layered as her performance is, the play that surrounds it does not feel like the finished article. One one hand, the concept is never taken beyond what we can read from the poster. Like many similar performances, it struggles to be more than its own idea. On the other, what is already there is muddled. We go from scenes that say too much, with Neféli standing in front of the mic and relaying facts at the audience, to scenes that say too little, where she relies on repetitive motions that are not clearly connected to anything. Maria reads like a performance that has been workshopped extensively, but in the process has lost touch with its audience. Maria is like a maths problem; it isn’t enough to know the answer if you don’t show your working. Three stars.

Maria has completed its run at The Old Hairdresser's


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