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Marys Seacole

Jackie Sibblies Drury
Donmar Warehouse
Donmar Warehouse

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Kayla Meikle as Mary Seacole Credit: Marc Brenner
Esther Smith, Deja Bowens and Kayla Meikle Credit: Marc Brenner
Olivia Williams and Kayla Meikle Credit: Marc Brenner

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Mary's Seacole is a generally satirical collection of scenes on the issue of black women care workers being unrecognised and discriminated against. It is occasionally entertaining, but too often feels messy, superficial and obvious.

It opens with the short, unmemorable monologue of Kayla Meikle as Mary Seacole giving the basic details of her life. The scene changes to a contemporary, perhaps British care setting where a white woman and her white daughter are sitting restlessly by the side of the bed where the woman’s incontinent mother is resting. In contrast to the two white visitors who leave having done very little for the patient, two black nurses clean up the elderly patient, talking as they do this about work and citizenship.

The scene shifts to a park bench in America where a white woman very rudely has an angry conversation on the phone alongside a black woman sitting on the bench playing some sort of game on her phone. Later, the woman (Kayla Meikle) will interrupt the game to receive a phone call from Florence Nightingale.

Another black worker (Déja J Bowens) arrives. She has at least two care jobs and is rarely able to see her own child. As they swap stories, a very insecure, white, middle-class woman suffering the isolation of caring for a newborn child tries to chat with the two black carers saying, among other things, that she loves Jamaica so much, she goes there for her holidays, her naïve condescension getting the biggest laughs of the evening.

The scene shifts to a knockabout training session for nurses in which a black nurse has to triage three white women patients.

Finally, loads of objects fall onto the stage to imply a surreal version of the nineteenth-century battlefield of the Crimea, where Mary gets bitten on the finger by a dummy and chats with a rather grand Florence Nightingale while her dead mother (Llewella Gideon) makes a speech against white supremacy, arguing, “they need us but they don’t want us.”

The political theme of the play is important, but it is given no complexity or depth in a script that feels messily fragmented. The show is a weak satire that has very little to say about the mistreatment of black women in the care system and that is a missed opportunity.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna