Venue: The Studio, Holden Street Theatres, 34 Holden Street, Hindmarsh
Season: 8pm Wed to Sat, 12th to 15th and 19th to 22nd October, 2pm matinees on both Saturdays
Duration: 2hrs 30min incl interval
Tickets: adult $25/conc $20
Bookings: 8262 4906 or VenueTix on 8225 8888 or http://www.dramatix.net.au
Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald had great success with the popular ABC television series, Mother and Son. Written by Geoffrey Atherden, the two main characters are Arthur Beare, a divorced journalist in his forties, and his mother, Maggie, a woman in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, for whom he cares. This production, a combination fo four of the original episodes, is produced, designed and directed by Matt Byrne, with Isabella Norton and Kim Clark playing Maggie and Arthur.
Maggie constantly drives Arthur to distraction with her antics, manipulating him mercilessly and leaving us wondering just how dotty she really is. One is continually left questioning how much of her scheming and manipulation of Arthur is due to dementia and how much is deliberately planned and executed, whilst using the illness as an excuse.
Arthur has given up his own life to take care of Maggie, but she gives him no credit for that, heaping her love and praise on his brother, Robert, pointing out Robert's successes and Arthur's failures and criticising Arthur for treating her badly and doing nothing for her. Robert and his wife, Liz, are often at loggerheads, but quickly align themselves whenever there is any suggestion that Maggie goes to live with them, or that they contribute money to her care. They are also in agreement at any time that there is a chance of getting their hands on Maggie's house.
Isabella Norton and Kim Clark wisely make no attempt to copy the original performances, instead creating their own versions of the characters. Norton offers a carefully balanced performance, at times leaving us thinking she is off in a world of her own, then hinting that she is in full control of her faculties and deliberately playing mind games with Arthur. Clark, too, gives a depth to his characterisation, at various times frustrated, angry, resigned, yet always loving his mother. Together, they sparkle.
Byrne has cast himself as Robert, but gives only a caricature. His entrances tend to and disruptive, causing a slowing of the pace, and his delivery of lines directly to the audience and looking for laughs is out of place. These are the sort of problems that occur when an actor tries to direct his own performance. Kim York gives a good account of herself as Liz, but could afford to be a little more acid with Robert.
The production also features Laura Villani and Njal Venning, as Maggie's Greek next door neighbour Toula and her son Costa, John Sabine, as Maggie's boyfriend Lionel, and Reg Hamlyn and Biana Levai as police officers. There is strong support from them all in these minor roles.
There are many long, slow set changes and, at one point, a member of the crew was caught still setting items at the sink when the lights went up. A crew member was also seen rushing to collect props from Norton before she had a chance to close her bedroom door behind her.
It is the performances of Clark and Norton that really make this production and you should go to see their work together. An improvement in the pace of some sections, a little restraint from Byrne and tightening up of the technical side could make a big difference.
Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.