Monday, March 20, 2023





Maureen  Harbinger of Death

 Writer & Performer Jonny Hawkins. Co-conceiver & Director Nell Ranney.. Set & Costume Designer Isabel Hudson. Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper. Sound Designer Steve Toulmin. Lighting Associate Morgan Moroney. Producer Jo Dyer. Production Manager Lachlan Steel, Technical Consultant Marcus Kelson. Stage Manager Tanya Leach. A Soft Tread production in association with Sign of the Acorn. The Space. Adelaide Festival Centre. March 15-18  2023

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

It would be natural to think that Maureen Harbinger of Death is about death. And it is. But it is also about life as the harbinger of death. Writer Jonny Hawkins enters to offer an acknowledgement of Kaurna land and pay respects to elders past present and emerging and ask the audience to remove the curse of the mobile phone which had plagued previous performances by turning them off altogether. With personable charm he explains that many women who have entered his life, some famous, some family, some unknown will be represented in the character of Maureen, who lives in the heart of Kings Cross and is now an old woman. Maureen Harbinger of Death will be a testimonial to women through the story of one woman

Jonny Hawkins as Maureen
A large scalloped theatre curtain of gold and dappled velvet hangs as a backdrop and spreads out  over the floor and across the chair in the centre of the stage and the adjoining table. Hawkins walks across to the table and picks up a pair of earrings that he fits to his ears. He then places a simple necklace about his neck and takes a piece of the curtaining from the chair and ties it around his waist and sits in the chair. He is now Maureen, slipping easily and believably into role. The audience is charmed into that willing suspension of disbelief as Maureen begins to explain her portentious title.

She is the Cross’s soothsayer, able to predict the death of her friends. She passes the list to the audience and asks members to read out a name of one of the dead from the list. It cleverly draws the audience into her story, participants in the lives of an odd assortment of characters, disliked cousin Jody, jolly Ken, bisexual lover Dennis, wealthy Bonny who died in the arms of Hugh Jackman and fashion conscious Teneil to name a few. For eighty minutes Maureen lets the stories roll of the tongue, stopping only to invite Craig from the audience to light her cigarette. She is the consummate teller of tales, captivating in her independent strength, funny in her account of the characters that populate her world, quick witted in her reference to Buckingham Palace across the street, named by her on account of the many Queens who live there.


Hawkins and co-conceiver and director Nell Ranney challenge the audience to cast aside preconception and prejudice. Maureen Harbinger of Death is an homage to the older woman, independent and forthright. Maureen’s version of the legend of Persephone, wife of Hades, suggests a very different interpretation of the ancient myth. It is the myth of men, the subjugators and oppressors of truth. For Maureen it is the portrait of a rebel teenager, intent on affirming her identity and determining her own destiny. Maureen and her departed ones are the creators of their own journey through life and true to themselves.

It is a testament she holds dear as she tells the audience that she never married nor had children. There is no shame or guilt or sense of unfulfillment in her confession. Nor is she the witch of fairytales, the wicked crone of fables or the victim of men’s recrimination. She is the voice of the independent spirit. Hawkins plays her superbly with wit, instinctive wisdom and a relish for the anarchic. 

Like the arc of life, the beautifully written monologue comes full circle. Slowly the earrings are removed, and then the necklace and finally the skirt is draped across the chair. Once more the writer Hawkins is revealed to tell the audience of Maureen’s death, laid out in the centre of her bed, dignified and with a $20 note in one hand, most likely to tip the person who would find her. For Maureen it was kindness, rather than politeness that would be her mantra throughout her life. Maureen’s words come from the heart. Maureen – Harbinger of Death is a finely crafted account of a life lived through sad times and happy times, funny times and tragic times but lived to the full until the final breath that comes to us all.