The Theatreguide.London Review
Bush Theatre Winter 2015-2016
Tom Holloway's drama gives human faces to one of the dark and shameful secrets of British history, though the structure he chooses, while evocative, is also unnecessarily complex and off-putting.
From the Sixteenth Century right up to the 1970s Britain had a thriving export business in children.
Orphans or just the children of unwed mothers or others deemed unsuitable parents were taken by the state, the church or charities in the tens of thousands, given new identities, told that any early memories they had were false, and shipped off to the colonies and later commonwealth countries.
The receiving countries just wanted to increase their populations, and the lucky children may have been adopted, but most were raised in institutions or used for cheap labour.
Holloway presents us with an Australian man in his sixties who is contacted by a society for such exported children and told that, contrary to the little he had been told of his past, he is not Gerry but George, he's a year older than he's always thought, and his mother is alive.
What does it do to you to discover that such things have been kept from you all your life and the one solid fact you knew about yourself – your name – is wrong?
Gerry is already an alcoholic filled with rage generated by the parts of his slave childhood he does remember, and all-but-alienated from his own daughter. And how can that elderly woman in Liverpool absorb the news that her baby is alive?
Holloway puts them in the same room and discovers that neither can handle it very well, in different and unexpected but totally believable ways.
But for reasons of his own, perhaps to reflect the way the subject is difficult for the mind and heart to deal with, so that they keep backing away from it, the playwright doesn't present the meeting of mother and son in one continuous scene.
Rather he jumps back and forth between Melbourne and Liverpool, and between Gerry before he gets the news and after, with only rapid rearranging of furniture to help us see where and when we are.
And then, very late in the play, we are told that some (and I won't say which) of the things we saw with our own eyes never actually happened.
Lying to an audience and then forcing it to re-think and re-interpret everything it has been taking as real and true is a very risky trick that is in danger of either confusing that audience or annoying it.
And what is gained by the device – something (I'm deliberately being vague again) about the difference between illusion or hope and reality – may not be worth the risk.
Russell Floyd movingly captures in Gerry the pain of a man already almost exploding with repressed grief for his own life and anger at the universe, when he discovers that being offered freedom from both burdens is as disorienting as being told he isn't who he thinks he is.
Eleanor Bron makes the mother a woman who has lived without her baby for so long that he is little more than a hazy dream, and makes us understand her awkwardness in trying to attach her half-forgotten love to this hulking stranger.
Sarah Ridgeway as Gerry's daughter and Sargon Yelda as the social worker organising the reunion offer support in underwritten roles that are little more than plot devices.
Director Steven Atkinson is more successful in guiding the actors to rounded and sympathetic performances than in guiding the audience through the text's twists and reversals.
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Review - Forget Me Not - Bush Theatre 2015