“Living with my son again is the best thing that could possibly happen to me; apart from your death”
If it ain’t broke, why fix it? The extraordinary success of The Father, now back in the West End for a second run ahead of a UK tour, has resulted in the Tricycle inviting another Florian Zeller play over from Bath. And if The Mother doesn’t quite scale the same heights of exquisite agony, it houses another storming lead role for another great British actor, Gina McKee following in Kenneth Cranham’s esteemed footsteps.
In the bleached white desolation of Mark Bailey’s design, wife and mother Anne is being hollowed out by depression. Triggered in the main by her adult son Nicholas’ departure from the family home, her sense of empty-nest-syndrome is exacerbated by her severe doubts about her 25 year long marriage to Peter, an upcoming trip to Leicester for a conference masking what she thinks is an affair, her confusion multiplied by her fondness for a bottle, pills or alcohol, either will do.
Zeller enjoys toying with audiences through the structure of his plays, a playful sense of manipulation present as we see scenes being repeated but with variations, often small, often crucial, always casting into doubt what we hold to be reality. The Mother actually preceded The Father in its writing but it’s a shame it has arrived second here as it feels slightly less assured, slightly less significant than its successor whose disorientation was intrinsically linked to dementia.
Here, we’re caught up in Anne’s raging against the abandonment she feels from Richard Clothier’s compassionate husband and William Postlethwaite’s edgy son, subsumed into a new relationship with girlfriend Élodie, well performed by Frances McNamee, who offers an ideal target for Anne. McKee is absolutely superb in Laurence Boswell’s production, achingly abrasive and if never quite sympathetic, always gripping in the hold of the mother of all manias.