Mother Teresa Is Dead
Royal Court Theatre Upstairs
Mother Teresa Is Dead is a simple tale about love, the meaning of life and the balance between one's own family and the global family. It tells the story of Jane who has deserted her husband and a five-year-old son and, having disappeared for seven weeks, turns up in an Indian village.
One of the delights of this production, directed by Simon Usher, is the superb set designed by Anthony Lamble. It is extremely wide for the Theatre Upstairs, covering its whole length and, together with Paul Russell's lighting, gives a real sense of place. It is very simply designed, which allows conversion from living room to garden to bedroom with minimal effort. This somehow seems appropriate for an Indian village.
Jane has been rescued in the street by Frances, an older woman who has returned to the India in which she was born in order to escape from a philandering husband. Frances is apparently trying to be an artist although she only has a single subject, Das, the real reason for her presence in the country. Diana Quick's performance as Frances is very special. She is wholly convincing whether calmly soothing or jealously vicious.
In Frances' company, Jane begins to recover her equilibrium. The slow process is not helped in any way by the arrival of the two male characters and the battlefield that they make of Jane. Maxine Peake does well to catch Jane's idealism and confusion as she tries to find herself. This reaches a peak (pardon the pun) as she relates a truly chilling tale of a dying child.
Das, played by a wry Harry Dillon, has all the makings of an Oxford-educated Playboy who dabbles in all sorts of amusements. These include women and short-term careers. His latest enthusiasms are Jane and a hostel for homeless and sick children. It is in the nature of Mother Teresa is Dead that the kind idealist who rescues children is also a deeply unkind person beneath it all.
It therefore follows that Jane's violent husband Mark (John Marquez), who has come to take her home as much his chattel as his wife, is good in many ways. He does manage to cover it up rather well with views which Das accurately recognises as both fascist and racist. This doesn't stop Mark from deeply loving his wife and son and his complete lack of understanding of her predicament strangely makes him a sympathetic character.
This is a very calm, reflective play in which a confused woman seeks to understand herself in the company of three equally confused and damaged people. It addresses major questions from Eastern and Western philosophical viewpoints. Is it right that anyone should eat when much of the world is starving? Alternatively, is your only responsibility to your family? Not very surprisingly, there is no single answer. The main conclusion that Helen Edmundson reaches is that escapism is not a good answer and that people must choose to live together.
Although Mother Teresa is Dead is played in a minor key, it is thought provoking. In particular, it is worth seeing for the moving performances given by two actresses of the highest quality.
Mother Teresa Is Dead is playing until 13th July.
This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher