The Knowing of Mary Poppins

(Visy Theatre)


Written by Marcel Dorney, Leah Mercer, Margi Brown-Ash, Stace Callaghan & Carol Schmidt, from an original concept by Leah Mercer

Professional production

P L Travers hated Walt Disney, with good reason, for he did an unforgivable thing. Disney turned one of the strongest, most complex figures in children’s fiction into a trite romantic, and immortalised her in a way that her creator never intended. For P L Travers it must have been like seeing your rough-and-tumble child made into a Barbie doll.

Today’s children know Mary Poppins best from the Disney musical, with Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyke, but the character that previous generations grew up with was created by Helen Lyndon Goff (who preferred to be known as P L Travers), and was as tough and vulnerable as she was herself. And even if we didn’t realise it then, she was the Eternal Female endlessly seeking the great god Zeus; the Triple Goddess who incorporates the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone.

The Knowing of Mary Poppins, which presents the life and strange character of Travers herself in a surreally wonderful setting, is currently having a second run at the Visy Theatre. It has been refined and simplified this year, or so it seemed to me when I saw it, and it works even better. There’s been a cast change, too, Jodie le Vesconte replacing Carol Schmidt as the Mother, Sunlight, Mary Poppins and other characters, and her strange haunting beauty adds an almost ethereal dimension to a production and a vision that is already other-worldly, while at the same time having its feet firmly on the ground.

Stace Callaghan and Margi Brown Ash repeat their unforgettable portrayals of the Maiden and the Crone, the set is as playful and profound as ever, and Robert D Clark’s music is again a joy.

I reviewed this show last year (Stagediary August 2005), so there’s no need for me to say the same things again. But my opinion then was the same as now – it’s one of the most inspired, poignant, magical and enchanting shows to come out of Queensland, and it deserves to be seen much more widely. I hope that Arts Queensland can see its way to touring the production soon.

Directed by Leah Mercer

Designer Conan Fitzpatrick, composer/musician Robert D Clark

Playing 31 August – 9 September 2006: Tuesday – Saturday at 8pm

Duration : 1 hour 20 minutes, no interval

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Tue 5th September 2006)