Catie Morrison @ St. John’s Church
11:00am, Tue 10 Mar 2009
This is a tough one to write about, really. Not only because I know jack about the Book of Mark – when has a lack of knowledge ever stopped me before? – but because… ummm… Catie Morrison and I have a bit of history.
Many, many moons ago – all the way back in 1990 – I met Cate quite by chance in a Physics lecture at Uni, drawn together by my Matt Johnson t-shirt. The resulting relationship was, at times, as fiery as her gorgeous red hair, and its impact was felt well beyond the 18 months that we were together. She was always a performer – a great guitar player and singer – and very active in her church. But, after
she broke my heart we broke up, we only saw each other infrequently around campus, and not at all after she finished her degree.
But I have to admit to being a little stunned when I was flicking through the Fringe Guide for the first time and coming upon page 63. It’s like the words leapt off the page and punched me in the face: “Presented by Catie Morrison”. Freaked out slightly, there was a flurry of Googling that led me to confirm that, indeed, this was the same girl that muddled my mind in the early nineties.
Except it’s not the same girl. Cate’s a deacon with the Anglican Church now, and we’re both older and heavier, and her beautiful red hair… well, it’s neatly tied back, but it’s definitely not the glorious shade of red I cherish in memory. And, as she starts her one-woman interpretative reading of the Book of Mark, her voice is also much softer than I remember – not necessarily in volume, but in tone. The first half of the performance starts out relatively dry – much like a sermon, Cate relies heavily on her book whilst performing extravagant gestures and very deliberately transitioning between stage marks. About halfway through the first fifty-minute piece, however, Mark’s rollicking nature kicks in and the tempo picks up; Cate’s delivery starts feeling much more natural and nuanced, with some great vocal variation (a great feigned speech impediment!) thrown in. It’s all becoming rather enthralling… but then she turns tail and stalks determinedly from the chancel (which acts as the stage for the performance).
So – it’s an interval. A great time to make notes and take stock of surroundings. St John’s Church is lovely inside, cool and frugal whilst still managing to feel delicate and ornate. I took the opportunity to breeze through the treatise masquerading as programme notes; a very academic affair which provided no assistance whatsoever to people, like me, who were utterly unfamiliar with the Gospel of Mark. But, given the rest of the audience, I think I was very much on my own in that regard. I was – by far – the youngest of the forty-odd people there; it’s a sea of white hair in the pews, and the muted interval conversations are fantastic: “do you still play the organ?”, “how many parishioners are there now?”, that sort of thing. Churchy conversations that I’m not likely to encounter in my usual day-to-day activities become fascinating here, and once again I find myself revelling in the moment, furiously trying to commit some to memory whilst scribbling other bits down. “It’s like I’m hearing the material for the first time,” said one woman to another; that’s exactly how I was feeling too, but for a far more literal reason.
The second “act” again starts slowly, with the chancel being adorned with a few simple props – a plant, some bricks. Again, Cate’s reading is initially a little reserved and tentative, but as the performance progresses she’s pulling at her own hair, creating a tousled mess in agitation, and tearing at her elegant white dress. As the Gospel reaches the events in Jerusalem, the pacing is appreciably quickened – shorter, sharper passages are almost venomously spat out, and there was a real feeling of tension and angst in the air. And suddenly, Cate drops the book from which she’d been reading – it lands flat on the ground with an echoing thud. She leaves the stage, and returns to much applause noticeably deflated.
I hung around after the performance – after all, here was a girl that had a significant impact on my early adulthood. I waited until all the other attendees had proffered their thanks on the way out, then approached.
“Pete,” she greeted me, “I saw your name on the list.”
We chatted. I asked how her life had been; “textured,” she replied with an unnerving stare into my eyes – nay, soul – “very textured.” The familiar smile was there, but everything else seemed to indicate that we were worlds apart. And then I caught a weird, third-person view of my own stupidity; of course we were worlds apart; that’s what 17 years does to people. We part, shaking hands; “go well,” she said.
I’ve no idea what the crowds were like for Mark‘s other shows in Adelaide, nor how the show reviewed; I do know that Cate wound up taking the show to the Melbourne Fringe too, so I’m hoping it garnered good results for her. But I left St John’s somewhat uncomfortable, yet satisfied; pleased with the performance, but perturbed by the piercing sureness that Cate seemed enveloped in. I’m still trying to figure out whether I was jealous.