Mum

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Francesca Moody Productions, Soho Theatre, Theatre Royal Plymouth and Popcorn Group
The Lyric, Theatre Royal Plymouth

Sophie Melville as Nina

Oh wow!

The talented Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, whose Shakespeare’s Globe Emilia was a triple Olivier-award winner, has turned her insightful gaze upon early motherhood, its angst and exhilarations under commission by Theatre Royal Plymouth's The Drum.

Relationships are laid bare and betrayal broached in an engaging rollercoaster of confidences, accusations and helplessness.

New mum Nina (a tremendous performance by The Stage award-winner Sophie Melville), still reeling from a ghastly birth and the recent death of her rather acerbic mother, is having a night off. Husband David is taking three-month-old Ben to his doting grandma’s and will be back in the morning. Nina has an undisturbed bath, wine and pizza and a catch-up with bestie Jackie (nicely paced Lady In The Van and Killing Eve's Cat Simmons) ahead… if she can just get over missing her boy.

The great thing about best friends is being able to be completely honest about your innermost feelings and fears isn’t it? The admission that the motherhood experience is unexpectedly overwhelming: the unprecedented tiredness, being powerless in the face of relentless crying, tremendous love tinged with resentment, and barely having time to get dressed. And what a bonus when your mate is a mother and baby professional who can tell you it is all quite normal, all new mums feel like this and they are lying if they say their babies sleep.

But sometimes honesty is not the best policy.

And so the nightmare begins, testing every relationship to breaking point. Pearl (the ubiquitous Denise Black) has done everything for her children and loved every moment of all-encompassing, full-time motherhood. Even now she will go to any length to protect David against all-comers and all allegations; Nina’s mum was a somewhat reluctant parent, warns Nina off marriage to David and urges abortion while Jackie is torn between friendship and professionalism. And Nina’s raw emotions, actions and intentions are second-guessed and scrutinised to the nth degree by all and sundry needing to make the most potentially devastating decision.

The all-female cast and creatives include Sarah Beaton, whose set is an empty stage beneath a huge baby’s mobile, relying on Sally Ferguson’s apposite mood lighting while director Abigail Graham keeps a cracking pace as the story ramps up but interspaced with quiet moments of poignancy.

Sharp, funny and shocking, beautifully observed and shattering, Mum is a stunner.

Reviewer: Karen Bussell