“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.
“an award-worthy piece that is pointedly political while being warmly hilarious and wonderfully entertaining”
Climate change is one of the burning issues of the moment. Some protest to try to bring about global action while others deny it.
The very daft, but utterly engaging “Two Super Super Hot Men” is a small play asking big questions from the perspective of people who might not ordinarily expect to be concerned by its impact. This is drag king comedy with a conscience.
Saying as much in 50 minutes as David Attenborough has in dozens of TV documentaries over many years Alan and Ron (the clownish alter-egos of performers Rosa Garland and Alice Boyd) give a thought-provoking and extremely funny perspective on global warming, the dangers of being ill-informed (and of blaming everybody else in a crisis), and a plant called Carol.
It is a knowingly ridiculous take on the issue as the two geeky middle-aged foley artists stuck in a small UK studio provide the sound effects for documentaries about climate change and begin to experience the shocking realities of the problem for themselves. Butter becomes sand, milk goes off in a warm fridge, water turns into stones as the pair get involved in increasingly absurd offshoots of the seriously-voiced factual programme.
Ron (Garland) regularly makes good strong Yorkshire tea and removes a collection of gaudy Hawaiian shirts while commenting on how hot it is; Alan (Boyd) has an alarm go off on his watch when it is time to tend beloved plant Carol, with whom he develops an interesting relationship and finds leaves sprouting from parts of his own body.
The two performers (who are also artistic directors and writers of the project) don’t put a foot wrong playing the two well-observed men, sprinkling the show with some terrific examples of mime, clown-like buffoonery and a working relationship that is spot on, particularly in some fast-fire conversation gags.
The humour begins the moment the audience arrives with the pair asking members to give them something that will make an interesting sound, then one does something with the item close to a microphone. So we get jangling keys (“that could be soft rain”), an opening and closing wallet (“sounds like a bat taking wing”) and a crinkly sweet wrapper (“that has to be a small squirrel”). We are cleverly misdirected into the duo’s world where the presence of a universal threat to life can be comfortably ignored.
An oft-repeated mantra is “If I didn’t do it and I didn’t do it then what are we worrying about!” – the cry of thousands who think the environmental crisis is only happening elsewhere in the world or is just a problem to be tackled by the next generation.
This is an award-worthy piece that is pointedly political while being warmly hilarious and wonderfully entertaining. It will be playing at the Brighton Fringe in May but deserves to be seen in theatres big and small, in schools and on street corners.
It’s one of the best examples of how Fringe theatre can tackle a contemporary concern with comedy and devastating directness. Let’s hope Alan and Ron can shine similar light on other significant environmental concerns in the future.