Talking of Katherine Mansfield

I’ve lived in Thorndon for around 20 years, and in the area of Thorndon that is within 100 metres of so of the Katherine Mansfield birthplace. Despite that I only visited her birthplace for the first time a few weeks ago.

I never studied Mansfield at school, and don’t actually know her story and her works as well as many New Zealanders. So the show Talking of Katherine Mansfield seemed a good opportunity to get to know her better.

The 80 minute show is by Catherine Downes, who is a Mansfield expert. She’s been playing her for over 30 years. The play is a mixture of Catherine talking about Mansfield’s life and reading out some of her writings.

I found it a bit slow to engage initially, but perked up with the recital of Leves Amores and the references to The Thistle Hotel in Thorndon. And from there we learnt of her outraged father who was happy to have her go back to London after she published such scandalous (for the times) prose.

You learn about her relationships and influence on so many other leading literary figures such as D H Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and of course John Middleton Murry. Murry is not the most sympathetic of figures as you heard about how he would write to Mansfield complaining how hard her dying was on him!

This isn’t a play for everyone, but if you are a fan of Mansfield or just wanting to know about her, it’s a pleasant introduction to her work. Downes has a real passion for Mansfield’s work and she doesn’t just act off a script but engaged the audience in her recital of Mansfield’s life and works. I suspect every night the show is slightly different.

The lighting in the show is worth a mention. The final scene where Katherine dies is done beautifully and to powerful effect as her face fades from view.

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