Mum's the Word

Linda A Carson, Jill Daum, Alison Kelly, Robin Nichol, Barbara Pollard and Deborah Williams
Theatre Royal, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (on tour)
(2003)

They roared, even howled with laughter. Or, at least, 90% of the audience did: the other 10% - the men - were more restrained, tentative, as if they wondered whether they were actually allowed to laugh.

Mum's the Word is definitely a woman's play: not in the sense in which that phrase is normally used - that is, a sentimental weepy - but a play which explores a very important aspect of being a woman, motherhood, from the moment of birth onwards. And it very clearly rings a bell with the audience: some of the one-liners definitely hit the mark:

"Every day I start out as Mary Poppins but I end up as Cruella de Ville."
"I find it much easier to be a good mum in public."
""I'm turning into my mother! My rebellion, tattoos and body-piercing have been for nothing!"
"Half my brain was washed out with the placenta."

The laughter was sympathetic: an obvious case of "been there, done that"!

It's a very entertaining show, even for the minority of males, who often felt like eavesdroppers. At times I felt rather like a sociological researcher examining an alien society who suddenly realises that the even stranger society his subjects are discussing is his! It is, as Burns said, a salutary lesson, seeing ourselves as others see us.

The staging is deceptively simple, with the cast of six sitting on six chairs in a semi-circle and speaking mainly to the audience and occasionally among themselves in front of a background of a child's drawing of a house and garden. There are a few props - a cradle, some books and so on - but they are cut to a minimum: every one makes its own contribution and there is nothing which does not add to the communication. Wayne Harrison's (yes - a man) direction is tight and the actresses are clearly comfortable in their roles - and seemed to be enjoying the show as much as the audience.

I approached this show, I have to confess, with more than a little wariness: would this be a case of the "monstrous regiment" bonding and excluding us males? Would it be a feminist tract? Would it be unsuitable for men? To an extent... Hmm, well, yeah... No, not really, but it has moments which very definitely make us uncomfortable.

On the other hand, however, it's good entertainment!

The tour continues to Glasgow (The King's), Inverness (Eden Court), Dundee (Caird Hall), Aberdeen (His Majesty's) and Edinburgh (King's). The West End production (starring Carole Decker, Jenny Eclair, Patsy Palmer, Imogen Stubbs, Cathy Tyson and Barbara Pollard) opens at the Albery on 18th March (previews from 8th).

Reviewer: Peter Lathan