[Review:] MUMMYLOGUES, Old Red Lion Theatre, London.
I shall start by clarifying that this review is incomplete, to a certain degree, in that I was unable to see all of the texts included in the full collection of Mummylogues. This was due to a few cast members falling ill and being unable to attend. Now, on to the review.
Writing, on the whole, is adequate and thought-provoking, if a little predictable, touching upon very relevant and palpable fears and sentiments that many mothers certainly experience, covering post-natal depression, IVF, abortions, miscarriages, even the death of one’s child, and more. The content is certainly sufficiently extensive, then. I mentioned predictability, and there certainly appears to be a sense of repetition in subject matter across the texts, also — especially, for example, in playwright Hearity’s depiction of men as monolithically football-crazed and, more specifically, obsessed with Liverpool Football Club. This is an issue because it creates a danger of limiting the scope of the texts, unifying the minute details that render characters identifiable and relatable to such a degree that they are at risk of seeming far too indistinct, univocal and shallow. The extent of this issue is notably minimised, however, by the collection’s aforementioned content coverage.
I have an issue with the majority of the content of ‘Just Aretha’, written and directed by Victoria Evaristo and performed by Aretha Nortey, and ‘It’s Not Me, It’s You’, written and directed by Nieve Hearity and performed, on the night I saw the performance, by Katie Vowles. The former deals less with motherhood — though this theme is certainly referenced and so not forgotten in the text completely — and more with disability, with an emphatic focus on Nortey’s deformity of the hand. What is more, this is the only text to procure direct audience interaction, with Nortey inviting an audience member to give her a Hi-5, further distancing it from the collection. The latter seems to dwindle away completely from motherhood and towards womanhood, with Vowles’s character interrogating what makes a woman a “good” feminist, and, more significantly, whether she is a “good” one herself. To focus, instead, on what makes a female who is also a mother a “good” feminist would have brought this content closer to the overarching theme and would have been a lot more poignant, I can imagine.
One could read into this and state that in focusing so little on the mother aspect of these characters' identities, these seemingly incongruous texts force audiences to remember that mothers are also complex persons themselves with their own, independent and particularised identities, not merely “just” mothers. One could say that these texts remind us to view these mothers as feeling people who experience the world independently to their offspring, and not only the bearers and guardians of children. However, I do not believe that this is what these specific texts succeed to do, as inviting an angle this would be. Both texts, particularly the former, are strong in themselves but have little place in this collection that, overall, certainly presents the personal experiences of its characters but solely their experiences as mothers and nothing more.
On to acting. Naturalism is a huge issue in this performance. The actresses struggle, it seems, to move fluidly between the delivery of one emotion to that of another, and we seem to move through the texts rather staggeringly because of this, with acute and blatant awareness of the events, issues and climaxes that propel the narratives along [where this should feel almost seamless, subtle and undetected]. Whilst performers certainly demonstrate good conviction and energy throughout, credibility makes for the best audience experience in performances like this, and this was certainly lacking. It is the credibility of the writing itself, constant throughout, that allows us to ignore the credibility of the performers, I believe. However, as I said, energy and vitality were certainly not amiss.
Transformativity is also in danger of being non-existent across the performers, with Hearity and Vowles certainly shining through as the most versatile — emphasis on the former. There is also a huge, and distracting, range in non-verbal interaction across the performers. To exemplify, in ‘Congratulions’, written, directed and performed by Hearity, Hearity stands in very close proximity to the audience, making sure to give eye contact to every single audience member, as does Eden Vansittart in ‘The A Word’, written and directed by Shereen Rousbaiani; conversely, we then have Victoria Evaristo who, in both ‘Dignified’ and ‘Dog Mum’, both written by Hearity and directed by Evaristo herself, chooses one spot above the centre of the audience and performs to it rigidly, restricted to one area Upstage. How the audience are addressed and included in the texts should be consistent across a collection like this. Moreover, I believe it was a mistake to have Evaristo direct her own performance; having an additional director who can see the action from an audience’s perspective would have perhaps made Evaristo’s characterisations [or lack thereof, unfortunately] and performances more multifaceted and distinct. Rehearsing in front of a mirror is also something I would recommend to actors/performers working alone.
Overall, this is a great overview of and introduction to motherhood and the experiences of present, prospective and former mothers. It is particularly effective that the texts all focus on the mother as a feeling individual and her distinct and subjective experiences, as opposed to on the sterile chronology of child-rearing or on the physical experiences of child labour alone. Performers are clearly dedicated and energised, and material is engaging and inviting. A good performance.