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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Love Child
Finborough Theatre February-March 2007

A woman who was adopted as an infant seeks out her birth mother, and finds someone very different from what she expected.

The basic story has been told before, but Joanna Murray-Smith's ambitious play takes us to a lot of places we might not have expected. And if it doesn't quite succeed in connecting them all, it still provides and engrossing, thought-provoking and frequently moving ninety minutes.

The younger woman is an actress, successful by her own definition in that she stars in a TV soap, but with an emptiness within that she attributes to having no anchor or connection to the past. This has led her to an overly-sentimentalised image of her birth mother and of their eventual reunion, one that is bound to be disappointed.

The mother is a successful, formal and somewhat cold woman whose experience as a powerless teenager forced to give up her baby contributed to her becoming an activist and feminist in the late 1960s (The play is set in the early 1990s).

Gradually a number of things become clear. Even though they meet amicably, the mother cannot give the daughter the instant warmth and love she dreamed of, in part because her own trauma back then led her to lock up her emotions. Part of the wide personality and culture gap between the two is directly a result of the mother's activism, a second generation of career women taking for granted the opportunities and freedom their predecessors fought for.

And perhaps most surprisingly, the daughter's emotional claim on the mother expands to a criticism of her feminist generation, in part for not completing the job they began, and in part for not acknowledging the next generation's right to use or abuse their opportunities as they wish.

Meanwhile, on the purely personal level, the play offers a number of striking and moving insights, such as both characters' inability, in their nervousness at first meeting, to keep from saying exactly the most off-putting, insulting or hurtful thing possible. Interrupted while trying to tell her side of the story, the mother blurts out 'It's not about you!' reminding us that the two do not share a common experience, but have two very different experiences that intersect at only one point.

That's a lot to squeeze into a one-act play, and sometimes the connections between the personal and the political are tenuous or strained, and sometimes the plot has to be jolted forward. The inevitable cracking of the mother's emotional armour comes a bit suddenly, and a last-minute plot twist doesn't give the audience time to absorb its implications.

The play's brevity and basic structure force the two characters into types, but Charlotte Lucas as daughter and Kristin Milward as mother go far toward fleshing them out. Nicolette Kay directs with a light and sensitive hand.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Love Child - Finborough 2007