Early on in Jonny Hawkins’s Maureen: Harbinger of Death, Maureen invites an audience member to light her cigarette. The man she chooses, like most audience participants, hesitates. She beckons him with a wry smile. As he wanders on stage, she immediately notices his bare face. She presents him with a mask – coordinated perfectly to the colour of her room and attire – and remarks: ‘He has a chin that could have sunk the Titanic.’
It’s a vintage reference, teasingly flirtatious – characteristic of the eponymous centre of this one-person show. With lacey threads of smoke creeping up from her cigarette, she strikes an arresting tableau: the ‘middle class glamour queen’ of Sydney’s Kings Cross. In her mid-eighties, she refuses to be relegated to the obscurity that so often characterises our treatment of the elderly. She demands attention. As the now masked participant retreats to his seat, the theatre fills with the distinct smell of her herbal cigarettes. Some audience members in the front row, maskless, begin to cough.