Mary Blandy's Gallows Tree

Based on actual historical events, Mary Blandy’s Gallows Tree is a one-woman play that charts the last hour(s) of Mary Blandy as she awaits the gallows in Oxford Prison in 1752, for the crime of poisoning her father. The monologue consists of a series of (imagined?) conversations with her maid, her jailer, her hangman and others as she tries to convince herself – and presumably us – of her innocence.

Doolan delivers the monologue at more or less the same pitch throughout

As the monologue unfolds it becomes increasingly difficult to decide whether Mary has been badly let down by her lover, Cranstoun, or not. Did he put her up to it, tricking her into feeding her father poison, or did she murder her father knowingly because he disapproved of their union? Was her maid, Betty, in on it from the beginning, and whose side is she really on? Will Cranstoun appear at the last minute to save her? Along the way, we hear of the conditions in the prison, the iniquities of the legal system of the time, often motivated by religious sectarianism, and of child prisoners.

The play, written and performed by Lita Doolan, is a short affair something over 25 minutes in length, although advertised as 50. The writing has an authentic period ring with many well-turned passages, and the subject has clearly been well researched. The problem lies with the performance. Doolan delivers the monologue at more or less the same pitch throughout, offering little light and shade, and therefore fails to meet the considerable emotional demands of a complex text. This is a pity as there is some good red meat in there. Occasional lines are articulated with a curiously modern delivery, and the pace is sometimes too swift to properly grasp what is being said. Luckily, this is a lunchtime performance which does not have to compete with the usual Warren hubbub, but even so it is often difficult to hear, as some portions of the monologue are delivered with insufficient projection even for the tiny Burrow. Unfortunately, this cocktail somewhat hobbles Doolan’s own rather good script.

Frustratingly, there is a good piece of work struggling to find the light here. Some re-direction, making the transitions between the various ‘conversations’ Blandy conducts more explicit, would do much to mend matters, as would a significantly sharper performance and longer period of orientation for the audience at the start of the piece. Doolan has produced many plays , but this one seems to fall short of its potential.

Reviews by Simon Lovat

The Warren: The Blockhouse

Last Rehearsal

★★★
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FAUX

★★★★★
The Warren: The Blockhouse

Ensonglopedia of British History

★★★★★
Sweet Werks 2

Sary

★★★★
The Warren: The Burrow

Mary Blandy's Gallows Tree

★★
The Warren: The Blockhouse

KING LEAR

★★★★★

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The Blurb

Mary Blandy hanged in 1752 at Oxford Castle for the murder of her father. She claimed that her lover, Captain Cranstoun, had tricked her into feeding her father arsenic. She believed it was a love potion that would allow them to be married. In spite of her religious beliefs she would not repent, claiming innocence. Hear her story. New play written and performed by multi-award-winning writer Lita Doolan ('Storm' Oxford Playhouse). "Gripping and dark" **** (Whatsonstage) "Unnerving quality" **** (Breaking the Fourth Wall for 'Time for Tea') 'Camden New Journal' pick of Fringe, 2018

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