Crypt – The Vaults
Reviewed – 13th March 2020
“Director Alice Malin keeps things tense but nicely straightforward”
A perfectly pitched play about parenting, education, kids and relationships provides another quality solo show at the VAULT Festival, which unpicks the complexity of the pressure faced by parents and children when it comes to having a good start in life.
Eva Edo’s “Tiger Mum” explores tough love and the importance of family as Constance – whose strong-willed and devoted mother has died and whose boyfriend is in prison – tries to work out the best way of ensuring her bi-racial son’s survival in a world of bullies, temptations and unfair privilege.
The themes of this play would probably be immediately recognisable to Amy Chua, who first coined the term “tiger mom” nine years ago. In a bestselling book she wrote about how the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their offspring and ensure their durability beyond childhood is by preparing them for the future, helping them to discover their abilities, and arming them with lasting skills and confidence.
Edo’s play is a reminder that the concerns are more universal, though her Constance isn’t pushy when it comes to wanting her son Elijah to have a good education in the way that the phrase is more generally used.
Constance (played by Edo herself with an appealing vulnerability coupled with a hidden strength) has a formidable mother, Agnes, who has the highest expectations of her daughter (a twin son died at birth) and grandson, who seems to be falling in with “the wrong crowd,” at whom she growls.
Agnes rejoices in the name of her grandson, Elijah, being fit for a king and a prophet, leading her daughter to believe that he is “destined for greatness” and telling Constance to look after him properly as she dies.
Edo successfully portrays an almost obsessive desire to follow that advice, desperate to get him into a public school against his wishes just to keep him off the streets, and avoiding contact with Elijah’s father, recently released from prison.
Director Alice Malin keeps things tense but nicely straightforward, allowing Edo to prowl around the small performance space with just a wooden bench on set. Occasionally props are pegged to strings which hang from the ceiling, but the focus is always on the characters being portrayed.
There are some fine moments of humour too, such as when Elijah treats the potential new private school to a Gangsta interpretation of Mozart.
“Tiger Mum” works best when it concentrates on the truth and heartache of a single black mother trying to raise a bi-racial child in the UK today, offering insight into just what drives parents to adopt a battle hymn of “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Whatever the rights and wrongs of tiger parenting, there’s an important message here about being the best person you can be, encouraging others and looking out for those we love. And that’s a decent measuring stick for any culture, society or individual.
Reviewed by David Guest