We want many ideas and themes running through our plays, so they may be experienced with complexity and a sense of surprise. In Mark Colvin’s Kidney, a new play by Tommy Murphy, we think about friendship, altruism, wealth, technology, and the Leveson “phone-hacking” inquiry, divergent concepts that the writer consolidates with the help of a true event.
It is a tricky undertaking, having to find the right balance so that the focus sticks with the plot’s main concern. The play wants to talk about the unusual affair of a broadcaster, Mark Colvin’s kidney transplant. Although sets of circumstances in the donor’s life that lead us to the main event, often seem equally or more interesting, admittedly perhaps, due to the brevity at which they are dispensed. Protagonist Mary-Ellen Field is an extraordinary woman who has had a very full life, and we require more than just that one great deed of rescuing a sick man, to satisfy our desire to know and celebrate her.
Murphy’s representation of characters, Mary-Ellen and Mark, is warm, vibrant and suitably life-affirming. Actors Sarah Peirse and John Howard are both immensely affable, but their unpreparedness for opening night is apparent and disappointing. The magic of the piece lies in the fascinating implausibility of a friendship developing so quickly and deeply in cyberspace. The actors have been assigned the unenviable task of making that relationship believable. Director David Berthold (Artistic Director of Brisbane Festival) and his designer Michael Hankin’s spatial manipulations are marvellously imagined for his creative portrayal of dialogue that takes place only on mobile devices. The performances, rather ironically however, fail to make convincing events that actually did happen.
It is nonetheless, a feel-good uplifting tale that is at once hopeful and inspiring. Mary-Ellen’s determination to give up her kidney may not be entirely comprehensible, nonetheless we recognise the divine in her actions. Her name may not bear enough eminence to claim space in the title, but she is a modern day real-life hero to whom we should all aspire. If only we could come away with a greater understanding of what it is that makes her tick.