Review: Marys Seacole, Donmar Warehouse

There’s lots of ambition in the highly theatrical Marys Seacole at the Donmar Warehouse but it doesn’t always add up to great theatre for me

“Them need us but them nah want us”

In this creative climate in particular, you sure have to admire those who swing big when it comes to the theatre as opposed to, I dunno, reviving Grease again. But that doesn’t mean you can’t call it a swing and a miss when that sense of the highly theatrical doesn’t actually result in great theatre, at least in my opinion. 

Which is all a long-winded way of saying I admired much of the endeavour behind Marys Seacole without actually loving the play itself. Jackie Sibblies Drury scored a big hit with Fairview and much of the creative team for that show has reunited here at the Donmar Warehouse, not least director Nadia Latif.

As the title rather covertly suggests, this play is about more than just the life of Mary Seacole, the trailblazing 19th century British-Jamaican nurse played here well by Kayla Meikle. But rather it is about all Black women who find themselves in positions of care and the paucity of recognition of the huge value they have brought and continue to bring to (Western) society.

This it does through a kaleidoscopic effect of constantly shifting narratives. We skip from 19th century Crimea to modern-day US playgrounds, from our NHS to historic Jamaican hotels and everywhere there is a Mary – a nurse, a carer, a nanny – and everywhere there are people not paying them their dues.

That’s my highly simplistic take on it anyways, and there’s a whole other strand about who gets to tell whose story laced in there too. It is dizzying from the off and by the time everything collapses in on itself towards the end, it is also a bit too distancing. The show’s ambition fudges any clarity about its messaging and that feels a shame.

Running time: 105 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Marc Brenner
Marys Seacole is booking at the Donmar Warehouse until 4th June

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