A Mother Speaks
Hackney Empire Studio
Knife crime is still a recurrent headline in our news. Last year it was gun crime, but either way it is a blight that is claiming young people's lives. The return of this one-woman play to Hackney, premiered there at the beginning of this year, sadly is still timely. As the protagonist here reminds us, we are so familiar with the flowers tied to the railings that we start to ignore their reminder of the tragedies they mark.
A woman in a white dressing gown is sitting on a bed thinking as the audience assembles. She is Mrs Morris, played by the dramatist herself. She laughs as the lights go down and begins to tell us about the day when she was so big-bellied and was rushed off to hospital to give baby Gavin birth -- for the third time, there had already been two false alarms. It is that sort of detail that gives this work its authenticity, along with touches such as ringing her mother at four in the morning to ask what do do about a crying baby (and then denying that she has gone and picked it up). Judd Batchelor's playing of this scene in particular is so real that it manages to overcome the awkward framing with which the play at first alternates between narrative from the bed and played out episodes elsewhere.
Susie McKenna's production begins with Mrs Morris sharing her story with us, scenes are played to other characters whose presence the actress makes us imagine and mobile phone calls are used as a device to suggest other dialogue - more justifiably here than in some recent plays where too often used to feed information without the effort of constructing a real scene. There are snapshot moments from early schooldays, teenage untidyness and growing into manhood. A father encourages his son to stand up for himself (a glimpse of a macho attitude of being 'the big man' that encourages violence), a mother seems so close to her son that, on discovering a used condom in his bedroom, she can question him about his sexual experience. Then come the gunshots out of nowhere and little Gavin, the child she has nurtured with her love, is dead at only seventeen.
I would have liked the playing to have maintained more contact with the audience while sharing those experiences that might seem common to us all. When the action moves into experience which we cannot share this would have made the transition more powerful.
Miss Batchelor does not just gives a picture of a young life suddenly ended. She raises questions of response and justice. How would you react if this happened to your child? A short non-chronological scene placed earlier gives us a hint of the action Mrs Morris took, action which makes the play shift into a different, darker mode as what began as a warm and amusing narrative begins to take on the dimensions of Greek tragedy.
Miss Batchelor gives a sincere and strongly felt performance that concentrates on the moment, enabling the actress to overcome the episodic sketchiness of her writing. She is aided by Kate Bannister and Karl Swinyard's economical but skilful design which suggests different domestic locations that help us picture the growing Gavin and support her in creating the sense of him being present.
Until 5th October 2008
Reviewer: Howard Loxton