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June 30, 2010 | by  | in Arts Theatre |
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Theresa Rebeck, the writer of Mauritius, Circa’s latest main stage work, has a background in writing for TV. It really shows. Mauritius is a tightly structured knot of a play, every event building inexorably to the next. It works so hard to be suspenseful that the tension becomes palpable. Its story revolves around the discovery by Jackie (Danielle Mason) of two extremely rare stamps in her deceased step-father’s collection. They are the Mauritius “Post Office” Stamps (the one penny and the two penny) from 1847. It’s the faults that make stamps valuable – these stamps should read ‘Post Paid’ but in fact read ‘Post Office’ – and the combination of this rather impressive mistake together with their age make these two stamps, as we are constantly reminded throughout the play, the holy grail of philately worth millions of dollars.

We are quickly introduced to our cast of characters, all of whom want those stamps for various reasons. Jackie wants to sell them so she can escape the city for some barely-hinted-at reason. Mary (Lyndee-Jane Rutherford in a career best performance), Jackie’s half-sister, wants the stamps as they are her last connection to her long-dead father. Dennis (a lugubrious Andrew Foster) wants to broker a deal between Jackie and Sterling (a solid Jeffery Thomas), a cowboy businessman with shady connections and a great deal of love for stamps. Philip (a delightfully meek Aaron Alexander) owns the philately emporium where the deal is to go down. Things, of course, go far from smoothly and there are many twists and turns.

When operating at its best Mauritius is an engrossing, if slight, thriller. There are some infrequent explosions of violence (well choreographed by Allan Henry but clumsily executed by the cast) seemingly designed to emphasise the stakes of the piece. These are somewhat ineffective. Its biggest fault, as a piece, being that well, at the end of the day, they’re just stamps and you are never really made to care about the characters enough to want them to succeed either. The film Carousel is an extremely good example of how to make stamp-collecting interesting and entertaining for the non-philatelist audience, and perhaps Mauritius should have taken a few more notes from its pages.

Mauritius also suffers from being noticeably a bit too long. Rebeck’s razor-sharp structuring is undercut by her propensity to let her characters go on too long. People break too readily into speechifying and plot points tend to be rather overstated. This needs to be a tight 90 minutes not its current leisurely two and a bit hours.

Ross Jolly’s direction is clean if workman-like. John Hodgkin’s set is well-detailed if a shade too sitcom-inflected, and Ulli Briese’s lights insist on hiding the revolving of the set, which steals some theatricality from the play. The score’s echoes of the Seinfeld theme also caused much amusement between me and the person who came with me.

Mauritius is no failure. The performances alone are worth the price of entry (if you can afford it), and the script is gripping enough to make you largely ignore the fact that you’d be really hard pressed to actually care about the goings on. For a play about stamps, Mauritius is a lot better than it could have been.

wri. Teresa Rebeck
dir. Ross Jolly
perf. Danielle Mason, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, Andrew Foster, Aaron Alexander and Jeffery Thomas

at Circa Theatre, 26 June – 24 July 2010

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About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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