Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Mother & Son


Mother & Son by Geoffrey Atherden.  Jally Entertainment at The Q, Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre, March 29 – April 3, 2022.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
March 29

Director - Aarne Neeme
Set Design & Construction - John Bailey
Photography -Tyson Lloyd Films
SKYPE Video - Drew Muir - Qframe
Recordings -Tom Johnson - Jampot Studios
Artwork - Design Central
Lighting - Michael Kilfoy
Sound - John Bailey
Stage Manager - Nathan Cox

Maggie Beare - Julie McGregor
Arthur Beare - Christopher Truswell
Robert Beare - John Rush
Liz Beare/Monica - Alli Pope
Anita - Kate Cullen
Steve - Nathan Cox
Bronte - Sienna Rose
Jarrod - Jasper McRitchie
Voice Overs:
Christina McRitchie
Brandt McRitchie
Nathan Cox

I was surprised – noting that Aarne Neeme was the director – to be disappointed in the opening night performance of Mother & Son in Queanbeyan, the last town on the company’s extensive tour.  Perhaps the small audience, still I suspect Covid-affected, was disappointing for the actors.

The key to Geoffrey Atherden’s success, in both the original tv series (Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald) and this stage adaptation he made in 2015 (with Noeline Brown and Darren Gilshenan) was the depth of humanity in his characters, however frustrating they may be to each other.

In this production, only at the very end of the final scene did Julie McGregor and Christopher Truswell get the right feelings through to us in the audience.  Alli Pope and McGregor got it right for the short scene between Monica and Maggie; and the children on Skype, Sienna Rose and Jasper McRitchie, were good in those recorded scenes.

Otherwise it felt to me that I was watching artificial grass grow instead of real grass growing which my imagination could mow to the right length and put the clippings in the compost bin for the future.  Essentially the acting of both Arthur and his unlikely dentist brother Robert was superficial, without developing our empathy, or sympathy, or even laughter.  I must be honest and report that I seriously considered leaving at interval, except that I should not then have fulfilled my professional responsibilities.

Technically too there were problems, particularly with volume levels for the voice-overs which need to grab our attention as the set is changed between scenes.  Though I knew the play from 2015, the source of comedy in the voice-overs was largely lost for me this time.

And finally, the one scene which caused guffaws all around the audience in 2015, fell completely flat last night, when Steve assessing Maggie for an aged-care package asks:

Aged Care Assessment Test Question: Mrs Beare.  Can you tell me who the Prime Minister is?
Mrs BeareIs he still there?
Tester:  I’m not sure.  I think so.  Can you tell me his name?
Mrs Beare: flaps her hands in a gesture of faint despair, and changes the subject, as the Canberra audience erupts in raucous laughter.

Mrs Beare passed with flying colours.  [ search on this blog: Mother and Son 2015, February 4 ]

Perhaps in the Tony Abbott era the cast improvised to make this the joke of the night, so I was waiting to see if Scott Morrison would get similar treatment.  

But last night there really were no guffaws, very few empathetic laughs.  Perhaps the most successful performance, as I read Atherden’s writing, was from Kate Cullen as Arthur’s woman-friend and potential marriage partner, Anita.  She created the right relationship between her character and Julie McGregor’s Maggie, and even managed to make Truswell’s Arthur more realistically human, allowing us to better accept his rapprochement with his frustrating mother at the end.  Alli Pope’s basically blunt Liz was effective in itself, but still limited as a characterisation; not surprising perhaps when her husband – John Rush’s Robert Beare – was simply a caricature leaving little for any of the other actors to work on to find the depth of feeling and meaning Atherden’s writing can provide.

The best I could hope for is that even in this short season the show will settle in and find the proper style Mother & Son really needs.