Mother of Him
Reviewed – 24th September 2019
“Tracy-Ann Oberman is superb as Brenda, finding her way through a landscape of emotions in a devastatingly truthful arc”
Do you have to love your child, no matter what they have done? Can you? This is a play about what it means to be a mother, in particular, what it means to be the mother of a son who has done something terrible. Evan Placey has written a masterful and gripping examination of this question, set during the week leading up to the sentencing of Brenda’s son Matthew for the crime of rape. But Matthew is not the only son, he has an eight year old brother, Jason, and Brenda has to deal with his needs, her own distress, and a media siege outside her front door. Tracy-Ann Oberman is superb as Brenda, finding her way through a landscape of emotions in a devastatingly truthful arc, and bringing in delightful and unexpected humour at times. It’s a performance that had my friend and I in tears. We are both mothers of sons, and were both impressed that a young man could write such a complex, real woman with understanding, humanity and a lightness of touch. Because, while this is a play that challenges us to think and question, while it is a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, it is never heavy, never forced.
The action is set in 1998, before social media, so the press and television were absolutely in control of the narrative in any situation. Every time Brenda or Jason leave the house they pounce. This is only shown by off stage sound and lighting, a successful design decision that makes the house seem more and more like a prison as the story progresses. Matthew, played by Scott Folan, is probably not anyone’s idea of a rapist. he is young, gangly and defensive. A normal teenager. Folan never reveals too much, leaving us questioning why this boy man could have done what he did. He is sweet with his young brother Jason, delightfully portrayed by Matt Goldberg, one of two boys who share the role. We get the feeling of a real family, a single mother trying to keep some normality for her younger son, not knowing how to deal with the older one. The boy who has become a stranger, a kind of monster.
Simon Hepworth plays family friend and lawyer Robert Rosenberg, trying to help with the court case and trying to keep Brenda on an even keel. His reliability and patience balancing Neil Sheffield’s unreliable Steve, the long absent father of the boys who shows up late in the play. Anjelica Serra completes the cast, playing Matthew’s girlfriend Jessica, and Tess, the cleaner. None of the cast put a foot wrong and, although it is Tracy-Ann Oberman’s Brenda who is at the centre of the drama, everyone deserves an accolade.
The sound design includes radio broadcasts, and is a valuable evocation of the time beautifully created by Fergus O’Hare. Ali Hunter’s lighting and Lee Newby’s costumes and flexible set create a believable world, a home that’s now both a prison and a refuge from the outside world. The whole thing is drawn together and directed by Max Lindsay with a lovely sense of place and family. It is a triumph.
Reviewed by Katre
Photography by Bronwen Sharp
Mother of Him
Park Theatre until 26th October
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Reviewed – 15th July 2019
“to praise each element of Equus individually is unfair, because it is the tandem of these parts that makes the production truly divine.”
It isn’t uncommon to see a play emotionally move an audience – to make them feel the pathos or joy that the characters are experiencing. However, I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen theatre physically move an audience – to make them lean forward, gasp, and let their jaws hang for extended periods of time. It’s a testament to the power of Equus, then, that the audience member sat next to me – along with many others – barely seemed to even be in their seat, so moved were they by the ferocious and sinewy stallion of a play that was taking place.
Equus centres on Alan Strang (Ethan Kai), a seventeen-year-old boy who blinded six horses over the course of one night. It rests with psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Zubin Varla) to uncover the motivation behind the crime, although in doing so he is also forced to interrogate his own beliefs on religion, passion, and purpose. The story is framed chiefly around this patient-doctor dynamic, although a host of other characters are implicated in Martin’s analysis, including Alan’s parents Dora (Doreene Blackstock) and Frank (Robert Fitch), forming a claustrophobic and tense psychological drama. But the true genius of Peter Shaffer’s writing (also of Amadeus fame) is that this paradigm is only one of the levels on which Equus operates; bubbling under the scientific surface is a much more non-secular interrogation of the social and cultural values that cultivated the environment in which Alan could be compelled to carry out such acts as he did. Shaffer’s rhetoric can be transcendentally poetic, weaving metaphor upon metaphor into a textured tapestry that cuts to the very core of what it means to be alive.
The writing never strays into the territory of being overly-ruminative though. Ned Bennet’s visceral and kinetic direction ensures that the intellectual complexities of the play are being constantly physicalised and theatricalised, with the help of Shelley Maxwell’s inventive and raw movement direction; Alan’s bed being used as a trampoline on which he is brutally flung around under a vicious strobe light, for example, serves to manifest the emotional realities of the character. This is heightened tenfold by the soul-searing strings of the sound design (Giles Thomas), the unnerving, subliminal lighting (Jessica Hung Han Yun), and the slick and stripped back set design (Georgia Lowe). The performances, too, are roundly sublime – Varla especially is revelatory, fully owning the hefty language of his many monologues, immaculately delivering the thematic nuance of the speeches with drive and agency. Credit must also go to the transportive ensemble and animal work, as many of the cast also embody horses during the play, particularly Ira Mandela Siobhan as Nugget.
However, to praise each element of Equus individually is unfair, because it is the tandem of these parts that makes the production truly divine. The quality of the writing exacerbates the direction, which exacerbates the performances, which exacerbates the design, and so on ad infinitum. It constructs a whole reactor of impeccably crafted atoms, all meteorically colliding with each other in a seamless symbiosis that creates the nuclear level of theatrical and spiritual energy that is transferred to the audience and galvanises them to move. Equus is utterly celestial.
Reviewed by Tom Francis
Photography by The Other Richard
Trafalgar Studios until 7th September
Last ten shows reviewed at this venue: