In a city built on its heroines, there are few more towering than Mary Slessor, the Dundee sired mill girl who in the nineteenth century followed in the footsteps of David Livingstone and spent almost four decades as a missionary in Africa. Mike Gibbs' play was inspired by Elizabeth Robertson's biography of the play's subject, The Barefoot Missionary, and faithfully dramatises Slessor's colourful life beyond it.
The play is introduced by the older Mary emerging from a large grass hut on one side of the stage to narrate her back pages, which are duly played out on the other half. Here we find Mary's younger self, a precocious auto-didact raised in the slums by a mother who every Saturday night faced the back of her husband's hand. Burying herself in books, Mary embarks on a real life adventure that will take her to the other side of the world, where things don't always go according to plan. Witch doctors, suspicious natives, visiting do-gooders and even her very own toy boy enter Mary's sphere, and if she can't take the heat, then she'll slip off her shoes and hold court in her petticoats.
Produced on home turf by the Mary Slessor Foundation, and with all funds raised pooled into supporting the Foundation's ongoing work in Nigeria, there is much wit to be found in Gibbs' text. This is accentuated even more by his local all female cast, who play to an audience clearly already familiar with the material enough to sing along with Mairi Warren's music, played on piano by Euan Gow in a stately homage to one of Dundee's finest.
The Herald, April 17th 2015