The Burton Taylor Studio is a well-chosen setting for the production, since it's small (50 seats) and thus provides the audience with an extra intimacy with each other and the actor(s). In this case the anguish and despair of a condemned prisoner was portrayed with excellent intensity by Lita Doolan - the play's author and sole actor.
As we entered the studio, Doolan sat in the centre of the stage bathed in an eerie green light and surrounded by nooses twisted into trees. The nooses constantly reminded the audience of her looming fate. The performance was not completely dark, however, having its moments of humour. Doolan spoke through the audience to other characters which remained unseen; she asked her lover Cranstoun why he left her, her nursemaid why she did not believe her story and her family physician why he also refused to accept her account of what happened. At times Mary seems to accept her guilt, whilst at other times she protests her innocence. This is interesting as there are mixed historical accounts of her culpability - and whilst the court condemned her, the media at the time remained undecided as to her innocence.
Mary Blandy’s Gallow Tree lasts only 50 minutes but manages to be a haunting story of love, regret and destruction. Doolan was at times despairing, melancholic and angry. It is surely never easy to be the sole actor in a performance, but Doolan was extremely impressive.
The performance moves next to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where I am sure it will be as successful as it was in Oxford. A brilliant piece of theatre.