Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Mothers and daughters… Reared, Theatre503, Latchmere Theatre, Battersea

What do the birds do when it’s raining, do you think? Do they have somewhere to go?

John Fitzpatrick’s new play is packed with powerfully rendered characters and asks difficult questions about family and motherhood. At one point elderly Nora’s daughter-in-law asks why she should protect her and yet we know she has no other choice having been both protected herself and overwhelmed by the woman whose intelligence and strength are ebbing away eroded by dementia and simple old age.

It’s a terrifying thing getting old, a tragedy as my own grandmother once called it, that turns the carers into the cared for in ways that are never convenient, nor welcomed. Nora (superbly played by Paddy Glynn) is a former business woman who is now reliant on her son Stuart (Daniel Crossley) and his wife Eileen (Shelley Atkinson) to help her daily routine. She enters their kitchen at the start of the play with toilet paper stuck to her heel after a incident in the bathroom: Eileen picks up the sticky remnant and fibs after Nora doesn’t hear her reference to poo. It’s a mark of how far she has fallen; she’s either unaware or in denial and it’s that tipping point so many will know.

Eileen is the main carer with Stuart busy being busy and requiring micro-management to do anything other than maintain a cheerful confidence in crossing that bridge when and if it comes… She wants his mother to live in a granny flat in their garden but Stuart has taken a long time doing nothing on it. He’s in denial and takes refuge in his work.

Danielle Phillips, Daniel Crossley, Rohan Nedd and Shelley Atkinson (All photographs courtesy of The Other Richard)

There’s an extra urgency to this plan as their 15-year old daughter Caitlin (Danielle Phillips) is pregnant by unknown hand… and for various reasons left it too late to raise the alarm. Her baby needs a room and Eileen can’t deal with both first and second childhood all at the same time.

The dialogue is well wrought, and the actors deliver with quality and precision. You can totally believe that Eileen and Stuart are married – they know each other’s weaknesses as well as their own and there’s humour to be had here as well as the routine niggling of the passing decades.

Eileen is fed up of being the one mailing things happen and berates both husband and daughter for pulling away from Nora whilst at the same time ignoring the signs that she needs help. There’s particular poignancy in Nora’s lucid moments, she is probably the brightest of them all and nails so many home truths in her smiling Wicklow accent, laughing at the ridiculous of it all.

“It’s only the Irish who walk into the sea. You wouldn’t see an English woman walking into the sea…”

Paddy Glynn and Danielle Phillips (Photo The Other Richard)

Nora tells Caitlin of her aunt who lived long enough to tell her of the potato famine and the cruel tragedies of a world turned to ash and a million Irish deaths all but engineered, in her mind, by the British. It’s a reminder of how cruel things can become and how we need family, community and kindness.

Caitlin begins to draw closer to her nanna as her own story is revealed. A one night stand with her pal Colin (Rohan Nedd) has led to her predicament but she’s keeping him quiet. Colin wants to help but he can’t give any more than he already has for, whilst he was Caitlin’s way of ticking off the box of experience she was his confirmation of his true sexuality. Caitlin loves Colin though and he tries to be a steadfast friend… bringing her ancient library books on maternity.

They’re both so young and even though their mistake could cost Caitlin her ambition to be an actress, she is growing up quickly as a result, recognising her importance in helping both her mother and grandmother.

It’s a good set up and the narrative doesn’t take the easy way as we delve deeper into Eileen’s past – now she appears to be the strongest character and yet it wasn’t always so and once Nora held everything together after post-natal depression almost finished her and her daughter off.

The story is well revealed and maintains a light tone between the sledgehammer blows… these are maintained right until the final punchline as things go a lot like life.

Daniel Crossley and Shelley Atkinson (photo The Other Richard)
Sarah Davey-Hull directs her strong cast well and brought out the best from the two younglings. I almost stood and clapped after Danielle Phillips’ Caitlin performed Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy in which she calls for the strength of a man to do what must be done. In reality men draw their strength from women like Lady Mac and, in kinder ways, from Nora, Eileen and Caitlin.

Paddy Glynn is great a twinkle in her eye and pure fear as her world retreats into a dislocated fog. Daniel Crossley I’d seen before in Lizzie Sidall at the Arcola (and also The Bill!) whilst Shelley Atkinson showed all her stage experience as the pitch-perfect woman squeezed between obligation and love: she owes Nora more than she wants to admit.

It’s disconcerting when the actors look out into the audience at the Latchmere, they can see us just as well as we can see them and for parts of this play I was cast in the role of a potential granny flat in the garden: typecasting... but who am I to argue with such a forceful cast.

Reared is a Bold & Saucy Theatre Company presentation and plays at the Latchmere until 28th April, you’d be daft not to see it and you’d have to have a heart of stone not to stumble out into the rain-sodden streets of Battersea as I did and give your Mum a call.

IThankYou Theatre rating: **** First class home truths.
Paddy Glynn

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