The thin line between reality and illusion is explored in Laurence Boswell's harrowing production of The Mother (Tricycle Theatre) by 36-year-old French playwright Florian Zeller – responsible for the brilliant The Father last year – adapted for the stage by Christopher Hampton.
Anne loved that time in her life when she prepared breakfast for her two young children, Sara and Nicholas. Now her children have grown up and have lives of their own. Spending hours alone Anne's world begins to twist around her. She has convinced herself that a weekend seminar in Leicester is a front for her husband's affair. Perhaps Nicholas and his girlfriend Elodie will split up and her cherished son will return. He will come down for breakfast, she will put on her red dress and they will go out. After all tomorrow is Mother's Day.
This is a compelling and unsettling play, totally devoid of sentimentality and mawkishness. Zeller is a master of manipulation, whose playfulness has a dark edge Scenes are repeated but with slight variations. The skill lies in his ability to combine a rigorous command of structure with a fine understanding of emotional nuance. Dialogue is spare, seldom extending beyond a couple of lines and often consists of questions and answers batted backwards and forwards like balls in a tennis court.
Designer Mark Bailey presents us with a bright white room, from which the furniture slowly disappears as the lead characters disintegrate.
The power of the play, however, derives from a superb central performance by Gina McKee as Anne, switching seamlessly from sulkiness to bewilderment and from an almost kittenish coyness to frenzied despair, drifting around the family home in a medicated haze of pills and alcohol, and revealing multiple layers of vulnerability. Strong support is given by Richard Clothier as her inscrutable husband Peter, William Postlethwaite as her inarticulate son Nicholas and Frances McNamee as his racy girlfriend Elodie.
This may not be as clever or as moving as The Father, a brilliant tale of an old man with Alzheimer's, but it provides a disorientating experience, funny, sad and wise, and an unforgettable portrait of a woman suffering from depression.
Runs at Tricycle Theatre until Saturday 5 March 2016
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