Thursday, 24 July 2014

Mother and Son, Comedy Theatre, July 24, 2014 ***

By Geoffrey Atherden
Comedy Theatre, Melbourne, until Aug 24, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert 
A shorter version of this review went online in NEWS, Herald Sun at 9.50pm on Thurs July 24 and will be in print on Arts pages on Monday July 28, 2014. KH
Darren Gilshenan & Noeline Brown. Pic by Lachlan Moore.

If you have ever felt a twinge of antipathy towards a parent, spare a thought for poor, beleaguered Arthur Beare whose mother has held him an emotional hostage for his entire adult life.

In a flurry of excitement, nostalgia and laughter, Maggie and Arthur Beare are back in the house – literally – in this newly minted, stage version of Mother and Son, Geoffrey Atherden’s acerbic, 1980s, Australian sit-com.

These two much-loved characters are reincarnated live on stage by Noeline Brown (Maggie) and Darren Gilshenan (Arthur), whose consummate comic skills do justice to these treasured characters originally brought to life by Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald.

Atherden’s intimate family comedy, directed by Roger Hodgman, is naturalistic, identification theatre with characters that are still relevant in 2014 and dialogue that is sharp-witted and well observed.

The comedy relies on the maddeningly dysfunctional but predictable relationship between lonely and frustrated Arthur and his manipulative, carping mum, Maggie.

Arthur gets no support but a lot of excuses from his successful, selfish and deceitful brother, Robert (Shane Jacobson), the dentist, and Robert’s mouthy, snobbish wife, Liz (Nicki Wendt), with her ever-so-slightly affected vowels and sassy manner.

Brown is achingly funny and exasperating as Maggie, the mother of all mothers, whose days revolve around keeping Arthur tied to her apron strings with her expert emotional blackmail, complaints, intrusiveness and real (or often fake) forgetfulness.

Gilshenan is suitably daggy as Arthur and captures his dejection and desperate need to escape from his deceptively benign and fragile jailer, Maggie.

Maggie sabotages Arthur’s leisure time by reading aloud while he watches the footy, banging out chopsticks on the piano or falling into a dead faint in order to ruin Arthur’s potential romance with Anita (Kellie Rode), his new girlfriend.

There are some flat spots when the pace flags, the cueing is slow or the dialogue is just a little too twee.

The production could do without the awkward, filmed scenes of the two grandchildren (Jade Redman, Dylan Redman) Skyping Maggie. Their greedy self-centredness might more effectively be revealed through indirect references to their selfishness and insensitivity.

Robyn Arthur provides a rib-tickling cameo as Monica, the haughty resident in the respite care hostel, while Kellie Rode plays Anita with relentless cheerfulness, despite the character being underwritten and two-dimensional.

Atherden hits a nerve with his satirical, but realistic depiction of the repeated cold-calling phone salespeople and collectors who try to scam Maggie, only to discover that she is the greatest con artist of them all.

On opening night, Brown leans on a walking stick on stage because she is recovering from a broken femur, which brings authenticity to the theatrical good wishes, “Break a leg!”

In this new play, Atherden’s beloved Maggie and Arthur remain treasured icons in Australian comedy and we can forgive any bumps in the production.

By Kate Herbert
Shane Jacobson & Darren Gilshenan. Pic by Lachlan Moore.

Noeline Brown. Pic by Lachlan Moore.

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