Mother of Him

Evan Placey
Courtyard Theatre, Hoxton

Production photo

When Toronto mother Brenda should be thinking about Hanukkah candles and buying presents she's having to deal with being at the centre of media attention. When eight-year-old Jason sets of for school he has to brave a posse of newsmen in the snow outside the door. Upstairs elder brother Matthew, seventeen, is still in bed. He has been charged with breaking into a student dormitory and raping three teenage girls and he doesn't deny it

Winner of both this year's Kings Cross Award for New Writing and a Canadian Under 30 New Playwriting Award, and now getting its première production directed by Guy Retallack, this play isn't really about Matthew and why it happened - he claims he was too drunk to remember much about it; it's about how Brenda copes and the effect on her.

Madeleine Potter gives a fine performance as Brenda, a professional woman coping with bringing up two boys on her own, fielding work calls, her own persistent mother and avoiding those from journalists and desperate to prevent events from harming Jason, who is played by the remarkable and totally convincing Gideon Leibowitz (sharing the role with William Byrne). She is great at showing both the iron control and the lack of it.

Bringing up children is always a bit like this but these circumstances pitch things dramatically higher leading to the kind of old style first act curtain that most modern dramatists seem afraid to write.

"I hate what he's done - but him I can't hate," says Brenda to the lawyer friend Robert defending Matthew. As Robert, Dale Rapley shows us his escalating frustration when Brenda refuses to exploit her younger son to make the 'right' impression on media and court and when Matthew's refuses to co-operate in trying to shift the blame elsewhere.

Matthew complains that no one will listen to him. He may not know how he got into this situation but he is prepared to take the rap. Tom Golding plays him as a nice kid, good with his younger brother, who just wants to tell the truth. Ready to face up to the questions of his girlfriend (Jennifer Thompson). He never gets the big soul-baring scene you might expect but manages to suggest a great deal in those moments, usually between scenes when prop or costume changes are going on, when we see him alone in his bedrooms, often exercising with weights.

Even the scene changes seem to grow from the play: changes, cast and stage management just do what is necessary. Retallack's direction never seems contrived. This is a play that explores rather than offering explanations but this production certainly makes its prize winning seem fully justified.

Until 4th July 2010

Reviewer: Howard Loxton