Maureen: Harbinger of Death invites you to step into her lounge room and have a biscuit while this elegant, acerbic, and fascinating older dame regales you with tales of the colourful life she’s led, and the wisdom she has learned along the way.
The studio space at The Blue Room Theatre is draped in plush velvet in an art-deco style. Nothing too over the top, but enough to make the space feel warm and inviting. Writer and performer Jonny Hawkins steps into the space as himself. As he addresses the audience there is nothing but warmth and compassion emanating while he explains that this piece was created to honour older ladies, and in particular, Maureen—a person with whom he had a friendship in real life, and whose memory has inspired the title and only character of this one-man show in which Hawkins says he has “borrowed a little life from a lot of different women” to breathe life into this character.
Hawkins sets the scene for us. We are in Kings Cross, Sydney, walking up the stairs of an old art-deco building to visit Maureen. He paints such a vivid picture, we can almost see the painting of Persephone on the wall and the “dust bunny big enough to eat a carrot” in the corner. In front of the audience, Hawkins gently transforms into Maureen, putting on earrings, draping a skirt in the same fabric as the velvet of the set around himself, and applying just a bit of lippy with the help of the audience.
The costume is not over the top. There’s no wig or intense makeup to create the illusion that Hawkins might, in fact, be an older lady, which seems like an invitation to remember that this a man playing an older lady, showing us Maureen as HE knew her, as HE experienced her, as himself. And yet, Hawkins’ skill as a performer is such that his mannerisms, voice, old-lady cackle, shakes, and the way he addresses the audience as Maureen has all of us on board without question.
This is metafiction: the fourth-wall is gone, Maureen has stories to tell and she wants us to hear them. She settles us in, shares some Jatz around after demanding an audience member light her cigarette (and give her a kiss on the cheek), because she’s going to tell us about her day, and it is going to “take a long time.” But we are in, everyone instantly falls in love with this lady Hawkins has transformed into in front of us, and we are along for the ride.
WAAPA graduate Hawkins is a fabulous storyteller, and the love and respect that shines through in his portrayal of Maureen are enough to bring tears to your eyes. There is just enough audience interaction for one to never lose that feeling that you’re sat in Maureen’s living room, and the house lights on the audience being on rather than hiding them in the dark just adds to that communal feeling.
It takes a while for Maureen to work up to exactly why she is ‘The Harbinger of Death’ but the wait is worth it, as Maureen passes a book of names around the room and every now and then asks an audience member to read one out so she can tell you the story of that person and her relationship to them. This is honest, touching. The script is full of amazing life advice befitting of a woman who has reached this advanced station in life. The fact Hawkins is able to honour that in the way he does, remembering the wisdoms he has learned from the ladies he has taken inspiration from to create this character, just shows how closely he listened to them, how much respect and admiration he feels for them, and is enough to make you want to hug him and every older lady in your life.
This piece, co-created by Nell Ranney and designed by Isabel Hudson is moving and real. The fact that Hawkins starts and ends the piece as himself adds a lovely, reverential element. The respect and love with which he tells the tale of Maureen, a lady to whom kindness is much more important than politeness is… everything.