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  The Theatreguide.London Review


All About My Mother
Old Vic Theatre Autumn 2007


Samuel Adamson's adaptation of the 1999 film by Pedro Almodovar is likely to appeal most to those who loved and responded to the film.

I must confess that the original made so little impact on me that I wasn't even sure I had ever seen it until a couple of minor points in the stage version jogged vague memories. And, as well-done as this adaptation is, I can't swear that it will stick long in my memory either.

In both film and play a woman whose teenaged son has died goes on a quest to find his long-estranged father. She ultimately finds him, but on the way she encounters a pre-op transsexual, a pregnant nun, a painter of fake masterpieces, a lesbian actress and her heroin-addicted lover.

This odd assortment of women find themselves connecting, at first awkwardly and then with growing warmth, as a new kind of family is generated that meets their emotional and practical needs.

Something is being said about the different faces of love, about family, and about the special bonds of women, and something is being said about motherhood, with three actual mothers in the group and the others taking turns playing maternal roles - and the warmth and humour of the telling resonate with many.

(Something a little less clear and resonant is being said about reality and illusion. The central character is first seen taking part in a role-playing exercise training doctors how to suggest organ donations - a scene she will then play for real when her son dies - and later pretends, for reasons that make sense at the time, to be a whore. The trannie, the painter of fakes, the actress who is seen playing Williams's Blanche du Bois, herself a victim of fantasy - the symbols are all obvious, though their purpose is less clear. Almodovar is known for playing with the cinematic illusion in his films, and these may just be stray in-jokes of his.)

Adamson's adaptation and Tom Cairns' direction move rather quickly through the first half, introducing characters so abruptly and briefly that the actresses don't really have time to establish them. Only in the second act, when things slow down a little and the characters begin to connect to each other, do they develop a depth and reality.

Lesley Manville plays the mother with a quiet solidity that takes its time fleshing her out, and as fine a job as she does, I can't say that another competent actress couldn't have done just the same. In somewhat flashier roles, Diana Rigg as the actress and Mark Gattis as the trannie do each bring something personal and unique.

Rigg delivers several memorable and telling line readings with her signature dry wit and, in a scene added by Adamson, offers a moving coda to the play in the speech of a mourning-but-surviving mother from Lorca's Blood Wedding.

Adamson has also enlarged the transsexual's role, making her something of a Chorus figure, and while Gattis plays her less as a woman and more as a not-too-successful drag queen than the role might warrant, he does provide a welcome comic undertone to the play.

It may just be that I have the wrong combination of chromosomes for this women's play, but while I admired much about it from the outside, I was almost never as caught up in it as my female companion was.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - All About My Mother - Old Vic 2007