Unhappy Hanukkah: Family Misfortunes Loom Large In Mother Of Him

Mother of Him, Park Theatre ★★★★☆

Mike Clarke
By Mike Clarke Last edited 54 months ago

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Unhappy Hanukkah: Family Misfortunes Loom Large In Mother Of Him Mother of Him, Park Theatre 4
Photo: Bronwen Sharp

Dark, tense and occasionally disrupted by a moment of outrageous humour, The Park’s revival of Canadian Evan Placey’s award-winning aftermath piece Mother of Him — based on a true story — goes to some pretty dark places.

Career mom (the Canuck accents hardly waver throughout) Brenda is dealing with her older son Matthew (a stringy and intense Scott Folan) being accused of rape. Younger son Jason (the remarkably self-possessed, credible Matt Goldberg) is staying young to put off having to face it, though even he can’t avoid the truth by saying 'sick' to everything forever.

Photo: Bronwen Sharp

At its heart is mother courage — how do you face up to what a family member has done while under the intense glare of the media (effectively represented by the lights and sounds of a press pack behind the door), and facing your own doubts and guilt about your parenting skills?

Tracy-Ann Oberman, an actor with vibrance and control who doesn’t always get to show it in her TV roles, owns Mother of Him, not just as its fiery heart, lashing out at the intrusive reporters and revealing more than is wise, but also as its introspective soul. Her breakdown comes, tellingly, when she realises that both print and social media are out to destroy her. They can’t get her son (he’s a juvenile so has legal anonymity) so let’s burn the mother down instead.

Photo: Bronwen Sharp

Act I gets a little distracting by the frequent movements of a sometimes cumbersome set, and it seems that theatre now feels it needs to compete with the lavishness of the Netflix box set when really there’s no need — although admittedly, the suboptimal menorah candlestick is a good prop.

Photo: Bronwen Sharp

You can come to this for the richness of dialogue and the subtle movement between the cast, such as when Matthew gives Jason his hoodie in a millennial coming of age ritual. Things settle in Act II, making it easier to focus on the people rather than the furniture.

Photo: Bronwen Sharp

As much as anything, it’s a coming of age and letting go play. As Brenda says when discussing how her son acquired the pornography that is part of the prosecution case: “you don’t *let* a 15-year-old boy do anything. He just does it".

Ten years separate us from the original production and some may find the lack of interest in the victim’s story or fate unsettling or even unacceptable but Mother of Him gets under the skin of doubt, blame and forgiveness in the world of shrieky media judgementalism in a usefully unsentimental and clear-sighted way.

Mother of Him, Park Theatre, Clifton Terrace, N4 3JP. Tickets £18.50-£32.50, until 26 October 2019.

Last Updated 26 September 2019