11 January 2020
The 18-year-old Ria is pregnant. Hardly surprisingly for a young girl, she is afraid of giving birth and the unknown, associated with it. When her doctor advises her to find a birthing partner to accompany her during labour to offer her comfort and support, she is faced with an additional problem. It turns out that the task of finding a birthing partner is anything but simple. She does not know who the baby’s father is. What is more, Ria has no mother. She was ran over by a truck two years ago. Ria’s dad works as a cashier in a supermarket and is unable to take time off to help her. Her brother has gone missing. Her Gran hates hospitals. And so on and so forth. If Ria does not find anyone, she will take her smartphone with her and watch a documentary while giving birth. It is her mission, anyway, to watch at least one documentary a day, because she wants to understand the ways of the world.
The course of Ria’s search for help is a journey through a cross section of contemporary society, or at least through that segment which subjugates its survival to modern working conditions. Trapped in a net of productivity and efficiency, a vast part of society lives in constant fear and uncertainty, slaving away to profitability, and is at total mercy of one’s employer’s good will. The faith in a better tomorrow has long since been replaced by a fear that the very next day, the loss of permanent employment may crush the meagre social security one has, even though it requires complete adaptation and self-denigration. Frustration accumulates at all levels, and the loss of freedom is often replaced by aggression. Although the play is set in a port city of pre-Brexit Great Britain, its topics and subject matter are well familiar.
In the second part, after Ria has given birth to a daughter, the play moves to the internet. Ria is employed as a camgirl: she is paid to talk to complete strangers. Although some of them live on the other side of the world, the problems of people who are willing to pay for a conversation are similar everywhere: loneliness, fears, missing someone to talk to, frustrated personal relationships.
Although Stephens manage to detect with great sensitivity the problems of our insecure world as experienced by his young female protagonist – the despair of individuals caught in a millrun of neoliberal capitalism, living online as a compensation of real life, threats to the economy, the planet, nature, people – his play does not lack humour. Through the eyes of young Ria who grows from a needy young girl in search of help into a person giving comfort and advice, drawing her knowledge of humankind and the world from her personal experience as well as from the wealth of documentary films, the paradoxes of our lives, sometimes funny, sometimes absurd, are revealed. The humour of the play constantly borders on irony; a modern Maria is able to carry out her mission precisely because of her idiosyncratic kindness and youthful candour. Therefore, it is not surprising that German critics (the world premiere of Maria took place in February 2019 at the Thalia Hamburg Theatre) called the main character a »Joseph-less Maria«, and claimed the play was a rather odd Nativity play.
Simon Stephens (1971) is considered one of the most prolific British playwrights. His award-winning plays (British and international) have been translated into several languages and staged at home and abroad. They are distinguished by lively, active and often unusual protagonists, as well as by an extraordinary touch for reality that they are derived from, as well as striking plot twists and witty dialogues, even when dealing with serious subject matters.