By Polly Teale
Directed by Polly Teale
Saturday 8th November 2008
This is one of those plays that probably only a woman could write. It’s very focused on motherhood, and the awkward relationships between not only mothers and daughters, but also a birth mother and an adoptive one. It’s quite nice, after a lot of Shakespeare, to see a play about the one thing he just didn’t do – mothers and daughters.
The set was interesting. The back wall comprised a series of sliding panels, all silvery-grey, which served as a projection screen as well as various doors. There was another door to the far left, and the only furniture at the start was a doll’s house about three or four feet high to our left, and a modern chair and table to our right. There were other chairs brought on as needed, and the second half started with lots of boxes on the stage and the furniture overturned, which the cast sorted out in the early stages, removing the boxes and righting the furniture. They also started packing up the doll’s house before moving it back from our right to its original position.
The back panels had an image of the lighted windows of a high rise apartment block projected onto them early on, to set the scene. The image also reminded me of DNA results, the little blobs that descend down the page. These were across the way, but even so the connection was there for me, and I was reminded of it occasionally during the play. Otherwise, the screen was mainly used for images of a young girl, at play or whatever, to add an extra layer to the action or between the scenes.
We also saw a young girl wandering about (Sophie Stone) in a white dress, and carrying a doll or teddy. She played with the doll’s house, and even talked with the woman (Katy Stephens). The woman was a high-powered business type who seemed to be organising some event or project, almost impervious to outside concerns. Her partner (Alistair Petrie) tells her they’ve got an appointment somewhere the next day, and she starts planning some major changes, cancelling work, etc. It turns out that a young baby, whose mother is a drug addict, is available for them to foster, and if the mother drops out of rehab they’ll be able to keep her. The play follows the process of the handover and the woman’s need to keep a connection going with the birth mother, which her partner finds disturbingly obsessive. The woman goes as far as taking the baby to the birth mother, Rose (Lorraine Stanley) while she’s actually on the job (touting for customers), and the final resolution comes out of that episode.
I found it a moving play, though not in the early stages when the scenes were a bit too choppy and clinical to engage me emotionally. It was in the woman’s relationships with her own family, a sister (Clare Lawrence Moody) and mother (Marion Bailey) that the play came alive, while her insistent desire to find Rose after she’d left rehab was both disturbing and understandable. Disturbing because of the areas of life she and we had to look at – the drug taking, sexual abuse and prostitution – and understandable because she instinctively knew that the baby was going to need that connection to her birth mother some day, and that that relationship had to be acknowledged as part of her life for her to be happy and at peace. Or that’s how I saw it anyway.
I realised early on that the girl in the white dress could be a number of things. She could be the woman herself as a child, or the ideal child that she was fantasising about, but on the whole I think she represented the spirit of the child that the baby would grow up to be. The woman had a number of conversations with her, as well as having dreams which included her, such as playing a game of hide and seek which ended up with the girl hiding in the doll’s house, and then being sealed up in it (the start of the second half). In fact, the whole play had a kind of dreamy quality to it, with the action shifting from ‘reality’ to the imagination all the time, and often these levels were going on simultaneously. On one occasion Rose appeared, and took the baby from the woman, carrying her over to the sister when she arrived, then walking off at the back. I assume that was symbolic, though I’ve no idea of what.
The sister was the one who had children of her own, and who felt less valuable because she didn’t have an important career. But unlike the woman, she did have experience in bringing up children, which the woman thought was the most important thing. Clare Lawrence Moody also played Katya, the home help, who added a touch of humour to proceedings with her no-nonsense approach to child rearing. The mother was the controlling sort, and the woman had felt under tremendous pressure to make something of her life. Now she wanted a child, and didn’t want her mother watching her every move and criticising her. The mother certainly wanted to be involved, even to the extent of waiting outside their house in her car for hours, trying to get the woman on the phone.
The partner is the only representative of the male half of the world’s population, and it’s fair to say that he doesn’t get much of a look in. He does have some good arguments, and a short piece about how he feels, but he’s mainly there to show us the completely rational point of view, and this play makes it clear that there’s more to life than that. There’s a different perspective, a sense of the connections between people, which don’t always operate in a logical, rational way. The woman feels this, and responds to it as best she can, and I could relate to that, while his pleasure that Rose has left rehab, so that they can keep the baby, is quite repulsive; even though it’s understandable, it was played to be unsympathetic. The playing of Rose was important in this respect. We can see what kind of life she leads, and yet she has that connection with her baby, and for a while she seems to want to change her life to be able to keep that connection going. I couldn’t judge her, as she was having a tough time just living.
The play also looks at the way so many busy working women are trying to fit babies into their lives, and aren’t always able to adjust. This woman has a lifestyle that’s beyond hectic, yet she wants a child as well. We see her trying to ignore the baby while trying to get her work done, and having difficulty knowing what to do when the baby won’t stop crying. This sounds like typical drama fodder, but there’s a sense that something isn’t right, that the woman is missing something. Katy Stephens started off playing her very calm, almost too calm and controlled, but as we see her with her mother and sister, we find out more about her emotional life, and Katy is able to express more of the power we saw on stage during the Histories.
It’s a challenging piece, and not to everyone’s taste, I’m sure, but I enjoyed it, and never felt bored, though as I say it did take some time for me to feel involved. I liked the use of imagery, and the performances were all fine. We applauded for quite some time after the cast had gone, but they didn’t come back for another bow, sadly. Steve reckoned there was some kind of supporters’ do that night, so they had to be quick.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me