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A Word for Mother | Upstairs at the Gatehouse

A Word for Mother, written by Tim Mcarthur and directed by Sarah Redmond, is a dramatic play that looks at the fractured family dynamics between Mummy Pru (Louise Gold) and her three daughters: Charity (Abigail Moore), Faith (Heather Johnson) and Hope (Melaina Percorini). With the recent passing of Mummy Pru and secrets being revealed at every turn, the conflict increases as the odds are stacked against the sisters ever finding peace and getting along. 

The play is staged entirely in Pru's kitchen, which has a nostalgic feel to it with the old curtain patterns, older appliances and the distinctive lack of modern technology. With pots in the sink, photos framed about, a messy tray of magazines and paintings stuck onto the fridge, the set feels lived in (Lillian Caccia). It was particularly exciting to see a functioning toaster, kettle and hoover. With the set extending right up to the front row, the audience both feel involved with the family conversations and invasive of their privacy.  The sound is quite minimal and subtle in this production, mostly only used during scene transitions (composed by Felix Gillingwater). The lighting design (Robyn Lawes) is well done, often illuminating certain portions of the kitchen, adding to the dramatic intensity of scenes. Lamps are used to add warmth and colour into scenes. Transitions between scenes, especially before a Christmas morning, are particularly done well. 

The cast perform excellently, really bringing the inner turmoil the characters feel to the surface. Jumping between the past and the present, the actors always make these subtle differences apparent and distinct. Gold as Mummy Pru is wonderful to watch, bringing a world weary perspective to her childlike wonder. Carefully portraying the fine line between the long buried guilt and pain with wise and loving, Gold brings a layered identity to Pru. Moore as Charity chooses a more sutble performance, often allowing her silences to speak for the character. The constant physical tension in Moore is so meaningful to see. Johnson as Faith does really well in feeling stretched between characters, time periods and secrets, and brings a steady and experienced air to her character. Pecorini as Hope is brilliant casting - navigating being a troublesome and rude teenager, to a bumbling young adult trying to make sense of life, to a wonderfully sensitive and playful woman, Pecorini steals every scene that she's in. 

The show carefully and interestingly offers opinions of several controversial themes such as abortion, affairs, sex-shaming, alcoholism and more. It doesn't shy away from confronting the good and the ugly parts of being human and being part of a family. The build of tension is quite rapid and the show holds the momentum well, careful to never linger too long or deflect the tension. However, it doesn't quite carry that same level of thoughtfulness to its own characters. Stuffed with a series of unfortunate events, the three daughters and Mummy Pru in the past are subjected to traumatic event one after the other. Each character exists in their own line and the stories can feel a little disjointed when plots overlap. Whilst this makes for a fascinating watch, it does alienate the characters from the reality initially established, ultimately making them caricatures of who they were set out to be. 

Whilst the flawed and problem ridden relationships make sense logically, the characters reactions to new information feel illogical. Perhaps in an attempt to fill the hour and a forty five minute show with all the material, the moments of truth are glossed over, and characters react without time to really process these new secrets.  The show has moments of incredible writing and has really fine tuned the nature of relationships between one another. A particularly impressive moment of this is Christmas, where a family Board Game evening spirals out of control, with secrets looming over them. Yet the show compromises this in attempt to favour more conflict. This results in an unsatisfying quick solution to all the issues at the end of the show. 

A Word For Mother is a brilliant character study, yet struggles to create a story from these rich contrasting personalities. A high stakes and tense piece, the show will resonate with many an audience. It is currently playing at the Upstairs at the gatehouse until 26th May - for more information and tickets, you can follow the link here.


Gifted tickets in return for an honest review


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