An Oedipus complex in reverse with symptoms of nervous breakdown, cushioned by sleeping pill and ’the little blue pills’ washed down with white wine, leave fantasy and reality fused and defused. Sounds confusing? Laurence Boswell’s production of Molière Award-winning playwright Florian Zeller’s The Mother (2010) is an 85 minutes journey that grips you from start to finish and leaves you wondering where the boundaries of reality and the figments of our characters’ imagination lie.
Gina McKee, pale and frail in silky off-white loose pyjamas, is haunting in her brilliant performance as a mother who wishes that her husband were dead and that her 25 year-old son, Nicholas (William Postlethwaite), would stay with her. All she wants is to turn the clock back to the days when she was needed as a mother; the time when she woke up early to make breakfast for her darling Nicholas and walk him to school. Nicholas is not her only child, there is also a daughter, Sara, but then, she always preferred Nicholas. Sara, she confesses to Peter, the father (Richard Clothier), she finds ‘unsympathetic’ and – wait for it – repelling and not very intelligent. Sara never appears.
Clothier’s admirable performance as the father, like a puppeteer with some broken strings, tries to manage events with a degree of emotional detachment. Throughout the play the mother accuses him of having affairs and planning to leave her. He keeps cool, largely indifferent with a touch of superficial interest in the mother of his children’s deep unhappiness.
Postlethwaite manages to convey the ambiguity and frustration of his feelings towards his mother. He is a son desperate to spread his own wings without destroying his obsessive mother who is intensely jealous of his girlfriend Elodie (Cara Hogan). All is not well in that household. The mother embodies oppressive qualities with little to endear her.
Unlike the plot and its meandering dialogues, Mark Bailey’s set design has a touch of Jean Nouvel’s architectural style, slick lines and monochrome white décor and furniture. It adds a sense of sterility in the relationship between mother and father, who hardly touch each other throughout the play, punctuating the void in in the mother’s daily vacuous daily life. It is only when Nicholas appears that a green tablecloth appears and the empty green flower vase is filled with yellow tulips.
Christopher Hampton’s superb translation maintains the punchy lines, sarcasm, and the humour in rawness of the dysfunctional communication. Hampton has also translated Zeller’s brilliant play The Father.
In this four-act play, with some scenes repeated and slight changes in the dialogue and tone of voice, Laurence Boswell’s direction successfully maintains and sustains the fine balance of pace and timings, teasing out tension, frustration, pain and suspension throughout, despite the somewhat formulaic structure of this play.