The Wicca Mam

Tony Gaughan
Rendition Theatre
Upstairs@carriageworks, Leeds

Rendition Theatre is a new co-operative group formed around playwright Tony Gaughan. Gaughan has toyed with EastEnders and had two or three professional productions, he's also won a lot of competitions. Wicca Mam leaves you in no doubt as to why. His is a fine mixture of firm, clear text fired by close observation and a robust, quirky imagination.

The time is now-ish and the location, we assume, a south Leeds council estate. Mam is passed her peak years and exploring alternative ways of being. She's settled on witchcraft - hence Wicca Mam. Biddy Coghill gives Mam a physically frail, spiritually and intellectually strong, presence. Her performance hits the target but is marred occasionally by lapses into RP.

Mam has two boys Martin (played by Derek Hardy) and Robert (Mark Jameson). Their physicality has grown to match their life choices: Big, stolid Robert, a building contractor, earning a packet in Dubai; Martin, fussy and weak, safe in his middle management council office. Robert on the political right, Martin on the left. Robert, we assume, heterosexual, Martin homosexual.

Mam conjures them up at will, realises them about her, interacts with them. Sometimes the conjuring is so good that they interact with each other, like the fratching siblings they've always been. Then she shuts them up, dismisses one or the other - usually the younger, Martin, gets short shrift. There is wonderful clarity and truth in Gaughan's depiction of the single parent with her warring kids.

It's Mam's seventieth birthday and Martin, tired of his regular visits, clearing up her piles of newspapers and carefully torn print shards of old news, wants her in a '...four letter word beginning to H.' Robert isn't so sure, until he arrives home.

And here the plot gets whacky. Mam morphs into a giant hare and listens in to the kids conversation as Martin drives Robert back from the airport. So agitated is she that she runs in front of the car and is injured. The scene is questionable, the brother sit on boxes, à la the worst of TIE, Martin produces two torches (from where? what they? why?) and they become headlights, which he holds whilst steering and... oh, bad idea!

But then the writing kicks in. Mam comes round in a nightmare hospital, the nurse and doctor are both demons (and of course the brothers) with phallic tails (and Martin has a little phallic tale of how he and his brother come to have different dads). It's a great scene and the actors pull out all the stops.

The show goes on and concludes well: we learn the truths behind the brothers' lives. Mam (is it now Wicca Mam or just good old Mam?) meddles and mends. We meet Mr Ahmed (Mark Jameson) the newsagent and Sheila, the home help who is a bit of a buffo camp role for Derek Hardy.

Dick Downing's direction is tight and tidy. The set is elegantly sparse: a screen upstage features a sky with stratus clouds, on stage are three black boxes and a litter of old newspaper.

At Leeds in the increasingly well used and shoddily designed Carriageworks studio Wicca Mam sold out for all three performances. No-one writes Leeds quite so well as Gaughan, with the possible exception of Bennett, who is West Leeds to Gaughan's South, not a distinction many will make. The audience on the night I attended were a happy, sharp crowd who got the well placed quips, digs and plot points. And allowing for a few fluffs it's easy to see why they were happy. Wicca Mam is moving, funny and thought provoking in its treatment of sibling rivalry, the shift in power between generations, and the opportunities for third age development. The stuff of everyday life. Rendition are booking a tour - watch out!

This production played in Leeds at the beginning of March but the review went astray somewhere in cyberland! We apologise for the delay in publication.

Reviewer: Ray Brown

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