Following on from the brilliant Emilia, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s new play Mum is a powerfully bracing experience at the Soho Theatre
“Motherhood’s not for everyone”
Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Mum gives us a portrait of a side of motherhood that is often alluded to but rarely fully acknowledged, those early days, weeks, months when the realities of parenthood hit like a sledgehammer and the fear of being overwhelmed is punishingly real. Nina is one such mother, preparing for her first night away from baby Ben after a difficult birth three months ago but as she gets him ready for a trip to Grandma’s, those fears only grow. Abigail Graham’s production opens at the Soho Theatre after playing the Theatre Royal Plymouth earlier this month.
An outsize mobile dominates the gloomy space of Sarah Beaton’s set design and as it turns, Sally Ferguson’s carefully poised lighting casts shadows on the wall that become increasingly hallucinatory. For as Nina cracks open a bottle of white wine with best pal Jackie, determined to have a night ‘off’, the guilt weighs ever heavier as she unburdens herself by saying the quiet parts out loud, talking frankly about how just how fricking difficult it is operate on such tiredness, such helplessness, such conflicting emotions as provoked by something society has dictated you will love wholeheartedly from the off.
Sophie Melville is simply phenomenal as Nina. Brutally, frankly funny as she bares her soul by saying the unsayable, trying to reconcile her reality with what the books and other people had told her it would be like. And as her worst nightmare starts to unfold in front of her, raw emotion just spills forth and it is tough not to be thoroughly enveloped in her growing crisis. Cat Simmons impresses as confidant Jackie whose career as a health worker puts her in an awkward position and Denise Black is striking as two matriarchs with very differing philosophies, reminding us how diverse people’s experience of family can be.
It’s hard not to walk away feeling highly impressed with Lloyd Malcolm’s talent as a writer. Once it becomes clear which trope she is exploiting you see how she is exploring it too, delving into why it’s a popular go-to but also imbuing it with a shocking urgency that is properly, dramatically, satisfying, a real hairs-on-end moment. And whilst you’ll clearly get an extra kick if these are experiences that you’ve gone through personally, the quality of the writing cuts right through, humorous then utterly heart-rending with much to say to all of us.