23
Feb
15

Mother & Son

 

Mother & Son

QTC, Joint Ventures, Lascorp Entertainment & Fractured Limb Production     

QPAC Playhouse

February 21 – March 15 2015

 

 Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

  

mother&son_noelineanddarren

 

Geoffrey Atherden penned the first episodes of Mother & Son in 1984 creating an instant classic. Now live on stage, 30 years later he has done it again. From the creator of the hit TV series comes a brand new stage comedy featuring everyone’s favourite forgetful mum in this trip down loss-of-memory lane!

 

Long-suffering second son Arthur, who has sacrificed so much to care for his mother Maggie, would just like a few weeks’ holiday with his new flame Anita. His philandering dentist brother Robert is no help, and manipulative Maggie is out to sabotage Arthur’s chances.

 

Vague but vicious and more arsenic than old lace, Maggie would have Arthur tied to her apron strings for life, if she could just remember where she put the apron …
  

“What do you do when someone you love is driving you up the wall?” Geoffrey Atherden

 

I was eight years old in Year 3 when Geoffrey Atherden’s classic comedy series, Mother & Son, first aired on Australian television. When I spoke with him on opening night, Atherden said he was delighted with the response from the Brisbane audience. With updates to include technological advancements and respite care options; Atherden’s new story serves a new set of characters. New as in same same but different.

 

Mother & Son live on stage is economically and comically crafted, slickly designed, and delivered by a company who is confident in its appeal to the masses. It doesn’t do to be too picky. We have to remember; there are generations for whom this is NEW. THAT’S RIGHT. THERE ARE KIDS OUT THERE WHO HAVEN’T SEEN THE RE-RUNS! And for those of us who have, there are some lovely little touches to this production. (The pre-filmed Skype sessions are GOLD!). QTC Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch, made a really important point on opening night, reminding us, “It’s not just aping a character from TV, it’s creating a new character.”

 

mother&son

The casting is spot on, with Noeline Brown as unlike Ruth Cracknell as she can be, in the role of the forgetful, overbearing elderly mother, Maggie Beare. She is all the right frailty and coarseness (at times she is surprisingly spritely!), and ultimately adorable, completely hopeless, winning our sympathy in the end. She throws excruciatingly caustic and careless comments in amongst gentler, more classic attempts at manipulation, which we can’t help but recognise because, sadly, WE’VE ALL BEEN THERE.

 

If we haven’t had to care for elderly parents and/or make decisions about their living arrangements, we know that one day we’ll need to.

 

Brown is a treasure, reminding us of every lovely difficult-to-get-along-with older lady in our lives.

 

Darren Gilshenan is as insecure an Arthur as we would ever want to see on stage. I feel helpless, and irritated, and sorry for him. The odds are stacked against him but he doesn’t help himself so risks becoming an altogether unlikeable character. Fortunately, Gilshenan avoids the paper cut out version of the poor guy with a lovely mix of stubborn determination, sad resignation and genuine love for his mother. Rob Carlton, as the favourite son, Robbie – a selfish, philandering dentist no less – is an absolute scream and risks going completely OTT. He narrowly avoids doing so by clearly making real choices on stage that are as affecting as they are idiotic (and catastrophic!). Nicki Wendt brings Robbie’s wife, Liz, to glorious, glamorous, ferocious life at a whole new level of delicious snobbery. She’s every Real Housewife of Melbourne rolled into one. A superb performance.

 

As Arthur’s love interest, Anita, Rachael Beck’s effervescent energy brings much-needed warmth and lashings of kindness to the proceedings. She’s the smiley, bouncy, chatty friend you wish could come to every family dinner purely for mediation purposes. An interesting device, her every entrance comes with a new hot health tip for Maggie. It could get old but Beck’s delivery is so real that I see heads nodding to agree with her: Yes, yes that’s right! Vitamin B pills and crosswords are good for the brain!

 

I was more deeply affected than I had expected to be by the final dialogue, the most sensitive segment of the writing, which suddenly gave a much clearer meaning to everything we’d seen before. Nothing is glossed over as such, but for the sake of brevity and a rolling, easy pace, a multitude of “elderly” and “parenting” issues are dealt with in comedic shorthand. At first it feels as if some of the issues are dealt with at surface level only, but there is occasion to pause and in the end, in poignant The Notebook style, the message is abundantly clear; in the end we must just let ourselves love.

 

Mother & Son is probably the darkest light fluffy comedy you’ll see all year, regardless of age or family history, and long after the laughter fades it will have you thinking seriously about a few things. Atherden’s updated text breathes new life into an Australian classic that deals, as every decent comedy does, with the most difficult aspects of life. It’s a fine production, and won’t disappoint. You should go. And then go visit whichever elderly relative or neighbour you’ve been meaning to see…

 

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