Review of “The Modern Mariner”

Review of “The Modern Mariner” performed at the Traverse on 29th March, 1985 by Catherine Lockerbie in The Scotsman.

One of the most memorable verses in Coleridge is “And the many men so beautiful / And they all dead did lie; / And a thousand, thousand slimy things / Live on, and so did I.” At the start of Mary Gladstone’s play The Modern Mariner, the young woman feels like this: isolated, surrounded by physical and spiritual death. By the end of the play, the men in the audience may well share Coleridge’s sentiments, for the male sex and all its works have been verbally slaughtered.


The storyline is the slenderest of hooks on which to hang a bleeding carcase of thoughts. A mother takes her apparently mad daughter to a psychiatrist. He says some of the expected wrong things and some of the ineffectual right ones. The mother talks of a need for compromise, but reveals at moments her own tearing at the bars of her cage. The daughter of course is mad: and so the playwright has instant licence to make her the mouth-piece for woe-man, for all female hurt, anger and hope.

The production at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, is distinguished by two factors: the performance of Ann Lacey as the daughter, and the wealth of literary and artistic references in the writing, giving what could have been mere diatribe poetic and intellectual depth.

Sometimes the targets are too easy, sometimes the metaphors are too mixed, but there is no doubt that the play is an eloquent product of a great deal of thinking and reading and feeling. With this kind of intelligence at her disposal, Mary Gladstone’s future work should prove interesting. Know Alternative Theatre is to be congratulated on promoting her work.