What Happened to Mari-Lyn – Sydney Fringe (Theatre review)

What Happened to Mari-Lyn?

Mad Art Co.

Unfortunately, this show has completed its run at the time of this review. However, follow Mad Art co here, to keep track of any repeat performances.

The question over the white middle classes hold on the arts is a fascinating one. According to The Guardian  Arts in the UK is dominated by white middle class young people to the tune of 90%, primarily because the lack of funding prevents makers creating who can’t rely on family support. From there, it is no surprise to find those who do manage to make meagre incomes from the arts are white males. Diversity in cultural expression has been of interest to Australian’s since we ‘officially’ became a cross cultural society in the 1980’s but still, as this article from The Conversation implies, ‘diversity fatigue’ is one of the primary problems when dealing with these issues in the arts. Of course, ‘diversity’ is less of a problem in the suburbs. It’s when we get into areas of mass creative influence (power) such as ‘awards’ and ‘elitism’ that lack of diversity emerges. Diversity is about power.

Enter Madison Hegarty and her clever show, What happened to Mari-Lyn? On its surface, this small, very funny fringe show is a tale of the white girl being ‘stuck in ensemble’ but dig a little deeper, and it reveals itself to be very much about power and the death of a certain kind of stereotype. Mari-Lyn is the daughter of white middle-class Canberra professionals whose ‘support’ for their pretty, talented daughter and her artistic career begin with naming her after a powerful white artistic icon. What happens to these talented girls when they move to Sydney (or from Sydney to London, or London to New York) and they realise they are one of hundreds of such girls; They believe their white middle class can-do is the only thing between them and white success. If they are not wealthy and hobnobbing with theatre royalty (as Madison suggests) they are not working hard enough. This middle class can-do, and that drive is the poison that will have them toss principles under a bus and display the sort of ferocity of purpose a white capitalist-soaked middle-class white person is conditioned to mistaking for virtue. For Madison Hegarty, that ‘virtue’ will lead to Mari-Lyn’s demise.

One of the great joys of the Fringe Festival, is small scale, witty shows precisely like this one, that shirk inner city theatres common curses of crushing those in their path or seeking reparations for previous slights of refusal. Madison Hegarty can do nothing about her infliction – she’s even pretty and talented, poor thing – but she can make fun of it in that very special way white people see, understand and feel in our bones. There is something deeper, and smarter than spoof or satire here. What Happened to Mari-Lyn contains the seeds of a subservient irony, as the talented little white girl stuck in ensemble gets what is coming to her for her crimes. Mid way through, the show takes on a dark knowing that twists the (in the case of my attendance) white audience into a shocking jolt of self-awareness. Madison Hegarty never mentions the words ‘white privilege’ nor does she colour her characters enemies, but her point reaches out over the audience as she plays very cleverly with our expectations. Here is a very intelligent white woman talking to white people about the embedded nastiness of being white and how far it will go.

Aside from all that dark depth, one of the great pleasures of What happened to Mari-Lyn? is Madison Hegarty’s enormous talents for singing, comic performance, writing and observational humour. Her songs are clever and her performance spot on. This is a very funny show that delights at every turn, even as she draws us into the darker parts of the psyche. What happened to Mari-Lyn? is a very witty show that is a must for a funny, joyful night out.