‘A play about mothers, by mothers’ is the tag line on the poster for Pepperbox Production’s new-writing play by Félicité Du Jeu, SPIKED. Packed into the intimate Stagespace studio upstairs at the Pleasance Theatre, three mums involuntarily meet and, through discussions and flashbacks, reflect on the terrors and turmoil that comes with raising teens. Strongest when writing for mothers, this production falters when the children themselves come into the mix.
From the outset, it is made clear that these are three women from completely contrasting backgrounds. There is the well-spoken yummy mummy from Richmond who suckles on her daughter’s inhaler throughout, claiming it helps her ‘to empathise’. There’s the strongly principled Kurdish immigrant who is grateful for everything she has in life. And there’s the cockney single mum, who curiously moves from obscure references to Titus Andronicus to racial slurs within a few lines and by her own admission prefers ‘more a straight talking kinda drift’. But one thing is common between them: they want the best for their children.
“Strongest when writing for mothers, this production falters when the children themselves come into the mix.”
The situation through which our mums meet is an intriguing one to say the least: some freak illness has seemingly incapacitated half of the school’s year 10 class, and the characters gather in A&E, all desperate for answers but with only the amusing enigma of ‘Alan’ at reception for company. As the story unravels, the circumstances linking the three children is revealed, and tensions between the parents intensify.
The humorous irony of this production is in the conversations that reveal none of these stressed mums quite know exactly what they’re doing but all are too proud to admit it. They find mutual understanding and comfort in the exasperating inaccessibility of their children but fundamentally disagree on their polarizing ways of dealing with it. This well-crafted play does not give a clear picture of life as a mother, but a spectrum of experiences and Gemma Kerr’s simple but effective direction facilitates this beautifully.
The performances are mostly solid, particularly Katie Clark who plays the Kurdish mother Rozhin. Towards the end she gives a powerful and deeply poignant speech on life as a foreign immigrant, judged by her image before the content of her character. It is clear that this is a play ‘about mothers, by mothers’; these actors have their own experiences through which they are clearly mediating their characters. All three are likeable, enjoyable and infuriating in equal measure.
“sleek design, smooth direction and strong acting”
However, we oddly meet the mothers’ children themselves, through flashbacks, also performed by these three actors. There is a strong comparison between this play and Yasmina Reza’s God of Carnage – in which two sets of parents meet under less than ideal circumstances to discuss an incident concerning their children. Through this interaction which spirals beyond control, we come to realise these parents are almost clueless to the interests and thoughts of their offspring, without ever seeing the children themselves. Unfortunately, meeting the children in SPIKED spoils the characters the parents have created in our minds. Where the mothers are well-rounded and interesting insights into parenting, the children themselves fall into well-worn clichés of grumpy teens who are miserable, always lie and think everything is ‘so-uncool’. Perhaps worst of all, the impression we are left with is that at the end of it all, aren’t all teenagers just the same?
The problem is there are three mothers in this show created by mothers, but there are also three children in this show… created by mothers. The fact the same actors play the children is a kind of false irony; I had the impression this is the way my mum would play me as a teenager if she were asked to, and that is not a compliment. The production is by far at its weakest during these sections; where the mums are honest, the kids are formulaic.
Despite this, sleek design, smooth direction and strong acting makes SPIKED a pleasurable evening. It leaves one with genuine reflection on motherhood and mothers, for anyone who has been or had one. I can’t help but think that by sticking to the interaction in the hospital the point this play was trying to make would have been stronger, but this is still one worth checking out.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and Skype my ma’ and tell her I love and appreciate her.
Image: Félicité du Jeu/Pepperbox Productions