Mother & Son

Mother & Son
By Geoffrey Atherdon. Matt Byrne Media. Holden Street Theatres. Oct 5 – 22, 2011.

The night started with the most amusing announcement to shut off phones, from a puppet left over from Matt Byrne Media’s last production, Avenue Q

I approached the opening night of this play with unease as my mother-in-law suffered from dementia for the last six years of her life and my own mother recently had to move to a residence for people like her with the same disease. I didn’t see much funny about it any more. You must know that Mother & Son was a famously popular ABC television series for about 10 years up to 1994. Ruth Cracknell starred as the mother in an early state of dementia, when Maggie Beare still had the wherewithal to partake in emotional blackmail, hide her dependency and stay at home alone and get up to mischief. Maggie does some very odd things which, when juxtaposed against her attempts at normalcy, result in some very funny situations that indeed I recall during my mother’s early stages. We can certainly laugh and cry at the same time. I felt these mixed feelings all over again watching this production and it showed me that my relationship with my mother was rich and rewarding no matter the state of her mind.

The star of the show is Isabella Norton as Maggie Beare. After 60 years in theatre, mainly at St Judes, she was recognised for her outstanding performance in Driving Miss Daisy in 2008 with an Adelaide Critics Circle Award and an ATG Curtain Call Award, both for best performer that year.  She is a Tassie devil whirlwind of energy fully in command of the nuances of the role. I could never tell whether she forgot her lines or was in character. Bright as a button. 

Now Maggie’s sons are quite a pair.  The writer and creator of the TV series, Geoffrey Atherdon, knew his stuff.  We have the younger put-upon son, plausibly penniless after a divorce, taking care of Maggie in the family home. The older son is a wealthy dentist, too busy to help and can do no wrong as Maggie’s favourite. All the issues come up in these four episodes on stage, like lack of appreciation, frustration, and Maggie’s will. Kim Clark plays Maggie’s carer with a weariness and quiet desperation that kept his voice and manner subdued. Matt Byrne as the older ostentatious brother modeled himself on the white shoe brigade of the Gold Coast. It was not possible for director Matt Byrne to keep actor Matt Bryne from some cringing excesses, some of which I got used to and eventually saw their value. His Robbie Beare overarched the others. Kim York, as his fed-up wife, was perfect. A supporting cast headed up by Njal Venning was great, as was the production team including the efficient backstage workers.

Matt Byrne the director kept the action fluid, although some bits were slower than the Cockle Train - mostly script. Matt didn’t surprise by choosing scene-changing music that thematically follows the action from a graveyard of hits.

Yes, the good old days when my Mom was only slightly demented.  People with this disease are not crazy, they are your Mom or your Dad, and as Matt Byrne points out in the program, there is a very good chance it will be you. Mother & Son was amusing, thought-provoking and bittersweet.

David Grybowski

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