(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/2; Photo: Unnerving questions … Leon Quartermaine and Fay Compton in Mary Rose at the Haymarket theatre, 1926. Photograph: Sasha/Getty Images.)
The Peter Pan author caught Hitchcock’s eye with a Hebridean ghost story about the intensity of mother-son relationships
I have neglected Scotland so far in this series, though I was tempted to include one of the great working-class dramas such as Joe Corrie’s In Time O’ Strife (1927) or Ena Lamont Stewart’s Men Should Weep (1947). I have plumped for this strange, sinister ghost story, partly as a reminder that there was more to Barrie than Peter Pan and partly because the play has much to say about the anguish of mother-son relationships and the universal grief for loss.
Barrie knows how to make one’s flesh creep. His play starts with a young soldier looking over a shuttered Sussex mansion and forbidden access to an empty room. As he falls asleep by the fire, the past history of the house and its inhabitants comes to life. We see how Mary Rose, daughter of the Morland family, twice disappeared during a visit to a remote Hebridean island: once briefly when she was a girl and then for 25 years when she was a married woman with a young son. Each time, she reappears mysteriously unchanged but, at the play’s climax, she is a ghostly revenant still pining for the son she has lost and searching for her place in the universe.