Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mark Colvin's Kidney

Mark Colvin’s Kidney by Tommy Murphy.  Belvoir at Belvoir Street Theatre Upstairs, Sydney, February 25 – April 2, 2017.

Director – David Berthold
Designers: Set – Michael Hankin; Costumes – Julie Lynch; Lighting – Damien Cooper; Composer and Sound – Nate Edmondson; Projection – Vexran Productions; Movement – Scott Witt.

Sarah Peirse – Mary-Ellen Field;
John Howard – Mark Colvin;
Peter Carroll – Bruce Field / Senior Physician / David / Priest / Iranian Officer;
Kit Esuruoso – William Colvin / Junior Physician / Martin / BBC Radio Journalist / Tom / Charon / Kane;
Christopher Stollery – Professor Zoltan Endre / John Colvin / Carl / Lucas / BBC Radio Studio Guest / Emad;
Helen Thomson – Elle Macpherson / Michele / Cassandra / BBC Radio Journalist / Nurse Sunita / French Parishioner / American Operator / Waitress.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 12

This virtual documentary of how Australian Mary-Ellen Field, one-time ‘brand manager’ for famous Australian model Elle Macpherson, came to donate her kidney to Mark Colvin, highly-respected radio journalist and long-time presenter of ABC Radio’s daily PM, is rather like a two-hour version of ABC TV’s weekly Australian Story

That’s not a complaint.  On stage, with projections that look as good as the best high definition tv and full-on (far better than home) theatre sound, and where the participants live and breathe right before us, this is one of the best Australian stories around.

Like Australian Story on tv, it’s a good story because not many people knew about it, and also because it has a good ending.  Like the doctors querying Mary-Ellen’s motives, or her husband’s querying Mark Colvin’s motives, we ask ourselves what each of them would gain from this donation.  If the play were merely fiction, we might suspect the author of Pollyanna-ism, but the truth is Mary-Ellen gained no more than regained self-worth and Mark Colvin simply regained his life.

So, though there are many moments of dramatic tension, and there is a happy ending, this is no romance.  The focus is essentially on what happened to Mary-Ellen Field as a result of a British News of the World journalist secretly hacking into Elle Macpherson’s mobile phone and publishing sensationalist revelations from a private conversation, destroying Field’s relationship with Macpherson and ruining her professional career.  A chance interview with Colvin as he followed up the News Corp phone hacking story, even while on almost continuous dialysis and frequent hospitalisation, led to respect and concern for him from Mary-Ellen, who kept secret from her husband Bruce her plan until all mental and physical tests proved she was the right donor for Mark – even having the same rare blood group and markers which made them the equivalent of siblings.

The most dramatic scene, I think, was in a restaurant in London (where the Field family lived and worked) when Mary-Ellen had to present the unsuspecting Bruce with her intention to donate ‘my left kidney’ to Mark.  If we had not known the ending (as I suppose may be the case for audiences in the more distant future), we could have expected Bruce to find it impossible to accept the risk to his wife’s health and even life in major surgery, despite his respect for her altruism and her right to make her own decisions.

She says, “It is my body, Bruce.  It’s mine.”  He says, “You’re making this my choice whether he lives or dies.  I don’t want it put to me like that, Mary-Ellen.  It’s you I am married to.  It’s you I love. You.”  But in the end it is his religious sensibility which allows him to send her this email as she is being prepared for surgery in Sydney, which the projected surtitle tells us was sent on '16 March 2013 at 15:54:41 GMT’:

‘This is your big week darling for you and Mark.  I am praying for you and just wish I could be at your side.  God is watching over you.for Ever my love. XXX…X.  Bruce’

And then, as Mary-Ellen comes to, we see projected the damning evidence of Rupert Murdoch talking about cash payments to police which had been ‘secretly recorded by a Sun journalist in the newspaper’s headquarters’ on ‘March 6, 2013’.  But before the ‘happy end’, we find that Mary-Ellen’s years-long court costs have been found against her.

“They’re taking a charge out on my house.  News owns half my home….  People claim things changed at the Leveson and the Senate Select Committees.  They didn’t.  Rupert won.”

And that’s not fiction.