Tricycle Theatre January-March 2016
The Mother is a presentation of a crumbling mind created by having the audience experience some of the same confused sense of reality as the character.
If that sounds familiar, the title and the playwright's name – Florian Zeller – may serve as a reminder. This play is a companion piece to Zeller's The Father, seen at the Tricycle last year and more recently in the West End.
The Father was about senile dementia, and The Mother depicts a kind of mental breakdown. In both plays the writing and staging bring the audience into the character's perceptions by showing us things onstage that we later realize never happened, and by deliberately leaving loose ends and unresolved mysteries.
Anne is a woman in her late forties who defined her entire adult life as a mother, so that now with the children grown and gone, she has no role and no identity.
She panics if her son doesn't return her phone messages immediately, and when he does visit she treats him like a child and smothers him in almost incestuous loving.
Her sense of abandonment extends to her husband, as she imagines that every business trip is a dirty weekend with a mistress. (It might be – that's one of the questions Zeller leaves unanswered.)
It goes without saying that Anne hates her son's girlfriend for stealing him from her, and the casting of a single actress in what seem to be several roles shows how Anne's wavering mind confuses the girlfriend with her own estranged daughter, her husband's supposed mistress and even herself.
Meanwhile the playwright repeatedly runs a scene again two or three times, with small variations, inviting us to try to separate the reality from the distortions of Anne's perceptions.
You can, if you are so inclined, treat The Mother as a series of puzzles and leave the theatre debating whether the husband really is unfaithful or who that other woman was in specific scenes. But that would be to miss the point.
The Mother is about the emotional distress of a woman who has lost her sense of self, and it is Anne's emotional experience, not any questions about what is objectively real, that is the centre of the play.
As such, a lot rests on the actress, and Gina McKee gives a performance of moving intensity and touching delicacy, never losing our sympathy even when Anne is at her most outrageous or irrational.
There is strong and sensitive direction by Laurence Boswell, and solid support from Richard Clothier (husband), William Postlethwaite (son) and Frances McNamee (girl), each having to play both sympathy and exasperation toward Anne while also in effect playing multiple roles as the actual characters and as Anne's perceptions of them.
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Review - The Mother - Tricycle Theatre 2016