Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life

Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life by Amity Dry.  Presented by Popjam Productions at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre.  Book, music and lyrics by Amity Dry; music and arrangements by Mark Simeon Ferguson; directed and designed by David Lampard; lighting by Daniel Barber.  September 15-27, 2015.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 16


Kate – Amity Dry, Bec – Nikki Aitken, Jessie – Rachel McCall, Lily – Susan Ferguson

Bass – Alana Dawes, Piano – Brenton Foster, Drums – Jarrad Payne

This is a women’s play about women’s business – being mothers and wives.  Kate, Bec, Jessie and Lily learn as they go along, and teach us through humour and empathy, in talk and song, that girls’ expectations of a ‘perfect’ life are simply not realistic.  But, as their final song says, that does not mean that life isn’t ‘worth it’.

Quite the opposite, in fact.  The show ends in a celebration of recognising that freedom from those false expectations is what makes life worthwhile.  A woman, and only  a woman, has babies, and no amount of information can prepare her for the unknown.  Only she can have this experience.  Only she can know how she feels and what it means to go through the pain, the fear, the determination and strength not only of the physical birth but of being a mother for her children, at the same time as being in a continuing relationship as a wife and as well as playing her part in the wider world – and satisfying her own need for personal growth.  Only she can know love – and know when love is missing – from a woman’s point of view.

The bravery, the directness, and the skills as performers of these women, made this father (and husband of nearly 50 years’ standing) a humble observer on several fronts. 

I thought they were far more brave than I would have dared to be, in my 30s as they are now, to write so honestly of the details of sex and marriage.  It seemed to me that there must be a great deal of personal experience in the writing of the dialogue and the lyrics of the songs, which in the past would have been kept private.  But, maybe, and I hope this is true, generations after mine have become much more open about such matters.

Other shows, of course, seem to have been similarly public in this way – Menopause, the Musical is the obvious comparison.  But I think that show squibbed the basic underlying truth by emphasising comedy at the expense of the ‘Complicated Life’.  These women laugh, in many of their songs, at the contrasts and absurdities that arise in their experiences, but the fears caused by the one-night stand for Kate and the breakdown of her marriage for Lily produce serious and thoroughly affecting talk and song.  Amity Dry has written a work of genuine depth, balancing the theatrical value of humour with the emotional value of truth.

Finding, as a writer, a way to satisfactorily conclude the slice of these characters’ lives was perhaps the only point where Dry had to bend reality a little.  Before her one-night stand and definitely unplanned pregnancy, Kate had tickets to Paris which she could not recoup in the circumstances.  She offers these (by now many months later) to persuade Lily to take the trip to rebuild her confidence after her marriage and life running a restaurant had fallen apart permanently.  Though, perhaps, a too-neat ending, it made a strong point about the importance of the bonds between the group of women.

For me, on the second night of the run here in Queanbeyan, it was odd that there were hardly any men in the audience.  Though women were clearly delighted that their ‘business’ was so energetically and realistically presented on stage, I think it is equally important for men to come to realise that women really are essentially different.  Though I have experienced  being present at my child’s birth, that can never equal my wife’s and daughters' complicated lives.

And the weird thing, for those men who still see feminism as a nasty plot against men’s rights, is that they will find themselves laughing most of the time and at the end will be nodding in agreement with the common sense.  Take the ticket to Paris, Lily.  Even Paris won’t be perfect, but sure enough it will be worth the trip.

Like the trip to see Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life.

Susan Ferguson, Amity Dry, Nikki Aitken, Rachel McCall
Lily, Kate, Bec, Jessie

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