Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Mother by Daniel Keene

Mother by Daniel Keene.  Presented by If Theatre and Regional Arts Victoria at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, Tuesday September 27 to Saturday October 1, 2016.

Directed by Matt Scholten; Set, Costume and Props by Kat Chan; Lighting Design by Tom Willis; Sound Design by Darius Kedros.

Performed by Noni Hazlehurst.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 27

Noni Hazlehurst in Mother is not to be missed – and what a contrast to her wonderful reputation as arguably the best-remembered and loved presenter of ABC Playschool.

On one level, Daniel Keene’s solo character Christy in Mother took my mind back to the beginning of this Melbourne tradition: Jack Hibberd’s existential Monk O’Neill in A Stretch of the Imagination (at The Pram Factory, 1972, played by another Australian acting icon, Max Gillies).

But there’s a big difference.  Where Monk was a  representation of the Australian misogynist male recalling his memories (a la Samuel Beckett), for whom one can have very little empathetic feeling, Christy is the epitome of sadness.  Her memories may be confused by turps and early onset dementia, but the story of her marriage and the birth and death of her only child, the son she secretly names ‘Beau’, cannot fail to touch our hearts.

We did not care about Monk O’Neill as he approached death, except for its wider meaning that it was time for what we now call sexism to die. 

For Christy we still feel hope as she glories in the fact of her continuing existence in spite of all that life has thrown at her.  Mother is a play of personal experience, and so seemingly less of an iconic drama of national identity, as A Stretch of the Imagination is regarded.  Yet Keene’s play balances Hibberd’s from a woman’s point of view.  Sexism still needs to die in 2016 as it should have done in 1972.

And in performing this woman, Noni Hazlehurst invites us in to Christy’s complex personality with the skills of a great actor.  Bit by bit we find ourselves putting into proper context Christy’s behaviour which ‘normal’people (like us) would think of as unacceptable.  Hazlehurst has such control of the detail of how Christy speaks, how she moves, how she responds to sounds (especially of the birds which have become so significant to her psychological state), and how she thinks, that our understanding grows from a conventional negative first impression to our joining her in celebrating “I’m here!  I’m here!” – even as we recognise the tragedy of her human condition.

Though I think that some parts of Keene’s 70-minute script need tidying up to keep the drama moving along more clearly, this play is a brave piece of writing with a highly significant theme about the experience and treatment of motherhood.