With little more than a cellist and a single tree branch for company, actress Madeleine MacMahon triumphantly told a story that covered 400 years and quite possibly even more characters in the play, Collector of Tears.
Written by Sean Burn, the play focused on a young woman who couldn’t age until she cried, but covered so much more than that. Themes such as family estrangement, death and sexuality were prevalent throughout, making for a brilliantly emotive piece of theatre.
From the very first scene – a conversation between main character Tanya Sealt and her dying grandmother – it became clear that actress MacMahon had quite the challenge on her hands. With her switching sporadically between characters and narrating the piece all on her own, the story could have easily gotten lost or too convoluted to follow, but that wasn’t the case. She jumped from accent to accent with surprising precision, convincingly throwing back to Tanya’s home of Sunderland almost constantly.
And, although she travelled far and wide during the centuries she lived through, the love and loyalty she held for Sunderland was apparent. When her father asked her how much she loved him, she simply replied “I love you as much as salt,” hurling her life into turmoil as she was disowned by her family. But, having gained all of their worth from the Salt Pans of Sunderland, they soon learned the value of her words when their business took a turn for the worst.
Through disownment, relationships and a beating she received, Tanya failed to cry. Even when her friend William Shakespeare was buried or her beloved grandmother died there were no tears. It was only when she received a hammer blow to the chest that the spell was broken and she began to age. But, even then, she didn’t cry – her eyes merely watered.
After enduring centuries of “just endless circles” and having to move on before anyone noticed her lack of age, she almost looked forward to her death. “I will age and die at last,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong in dying, as long as you achieve something first.”
Towards the end, the actress’ performance became shockingly believable. You could almost feel the audience’s uncertainty as they wondered whether she was acting or genuinely becoming hysterical. The story, the set and the topics covered were all important, but it was MacMahon’s performance that made the show what it was. And I loved it more than salt.