Review: Mary Ann, The Forgotten Sister

Review: Mary Ann, The Forgotten Sister

Mary Ann McCracken, sister of the more famous Henry Joy McCracken killed fighting for a United Ireland, has now gained her proper billing via a theatrical journey around Clifton Street courtesy of Kabosh. Titled Mary Ann, the Forgotten Sister, Clare McMahon‘s promenade piece begins in a corner of the slightly neglected cemetery by the McCrackens’ graves. The United Irishman gains a plaque – and has been commemorated in drama by the great Stewart Parker – but now it’s his long lived, campaigning older sister’s turn.

The material is fascinating, with Miss McCracken’s impressive involvement with many causes including the poor house, now Clifton House where we end up on the tour. She was an abolitionist and one of the most powerful scenes near the end documents the way she handed our anti-slavery pamphlets to people travelling to the New World from Belfast docks. She would not consume sugar from the Caribbean to show solidarity. Her words still resonate today and a list of the sort of social issues she addressed that still go on, including human trafficking and child poverty, is chastening. In fact, her only flaw was determination to get the work done and she wanted to get a pamphlet printed before seeing her dead sister, an action reprimanded by her feisty niece.

The actors – excellent Carol Moore as Mary Ann, Maria Connolly and Calla Hughes versatile in multiple roles – provided a nice insight to pre-Victorian Belfast. There was a slight problem with traffic noise and moving from scene to scene. Although music and period songs linked the performances, audience members tended to chat about history and guided tours en route, losing a bit of the focus. But key scenes such as McCracken’s death when he sends his much loved sister away to gain the courage to face the gallows worked very well. Maria Connolly made a heroic Henry Joy McCracken.  Carol Moore was affecting as Mary Ann.

However, the picture we gain is of a driven woman, a feminist who even as a girl knew she was superior in understanding to some of the male students, a campaigner who throughout simply wanted to “improve other people’s lives”.

This child of the Enlightenment certainly did that, educating the young children of the poorhouse like their more privileged peers and getting better supplies, including more soap, for the inmates. Part of the education provided by this theatrical walking tour is a reminder of Belfast’s progressive past.

It’s just a shame the world has not managed to learn the lessons provided by this significant woman who wrongly described herself as not a trail blazer.

Jane Hardy

The theatrical tour continues next weekend, with two performances on Saturday and Sunday, starting at 11am then 2.30pm at Clifton Street Cemetery entrance. 

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