Monday, 9 November 1998

Mum's the Word, Nov 9, 1998

At Athenaeum Theatre 1, from Nov, 1998
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Mum's The Word is critic-proof. People, particularly women with children, will flock to it no matter what is said hereafter. The show is a phenomenon akin to Wogs Out of Work in the 80's. It is identification theatre that is theatrically naive but socially and emotionally significant.

If you've given birth, you will identify with the six women on stage who spin yarns about excruciating labours, messy houses, dirty nappies, screaming infants, demanding toddlers, absent husbands, tantrums (from both mother and child), loss of memory, libido, career, earning power, beauty... The list goes on.

What is evident is that, in spite of all the grime and discomfort, pain and anguish, having a bub is the greatest love affair you will ever have. One woman quotes a husband, saying, "It's difficult sitting here watching you fall in love with someone else."

Six Canadian women wrote Mum's The Word when they met every Saturday without their kids, to tell stories and develop a stage show. It is not a play so much as a collection of candid, recognisable anecdotes and monologues told directly to the audience by each actor as the other five look on, nodding and laughing in sympathy.

The problem is that the show lacks any sense of the theatrical. The direction is pedestrian and the script lacks any dramatic tension, character development or narrative. The most complete character is the fraught, forgetful young mum (Pepe Trevor) who shakes bodily in order to rock her baby to sleep.

Director, Kaaren Fairfax, could have been more adventurous with the staging and direction. There are only two segments with any theatricality: the park and swimming pool scenes. The actors struggle to bring any theatrical life to such a banal script. It relies on skilful comic acting and this re-mounting misses two of the previous cast, Denise Scott and Sally Cooper.

Jane Clifton is hilarious and engaging throughout, with impeccable comic timing. Tracey Harvey's broad comic brush-strokes are exactly what the piece requires. Carmelina Di Guglielmo, Meg Nantsou and Trevorall give creditable performances but Mickey Camilleri is out of her comic depth much of the time.

The audience of mostly women were muttering in sympathy and recognition constantly. Mum's The Word is entertaining, but repetitive and an hour too long. It is essentially a community theatre piece for women with babies but the more dramatic stories are compelling for anyone.

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