A new play by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Mum, is currently playing at the Soho Theatre. It is a raw and physical exploration of how motherhood can be tough, and how some mothers can be failed by the system set up to protect their children.
The set, by Sarah Beaton, is defined by a huge, rotating, mobile, and a pile of clothes. Nina’s state of mind and change of fortune is indicated by sharp movements and ominous pauses in the action. At first, she smilingly looks forward to a night off as 12 week old baby Ben stays at his grandma’s house. Later, she physically unravels and diminishes as the story progresses.
Three actors inhabit the space: Sophie Melville is Nina (an astonishing performance of power and vulnerability); Cat Simmons is Jackie, confidante and health worker, who slips between being friend and foe as circumstances dictate; Denise Black is both mum-in-law, sharp and stoic, and mum, caustic and unmaternal in her final months.
Moments in the script take careful aim. As Nina reveals her pregnancy, her mum is almost barbaric in her response to “get that thing out of you”. And when she “unravels” her anger and exhaustion to Jackie over a bottle of wine in a private conversation, we feel uneasy until it is too late.
Mum is a searingly honest portrait of motherhood, focusing on several examples (Nina and Ben, Nina and her mum, the mother in law and Nina, the mother in law and the absent but ominous presence of Dave). It covers both the animal instinct to fight for one’s cub, but also the resentment of having to keep another person safe forever.
As well as showing Nina’s predicament after that night away from Ben unravels, Mum is also firm in its look at how the court system fails families of children who may be the subject of abuse. These scenes are truly hopeless and terribly sad.
Nina’s experience is hardly unique, which makes this both a tough and essential watch. There are hints that this woman has been discounted at every turn: unsupported by mother, husband, midwife. Her fate is inevitable.
Mum is at the Soho Theatre until 20 November: book tickets here. It is directed by Abigail Graham, and co-produced by Francesca Moody Productions, Soho Theatre, Theatre Royal Plymouth and Popcorn Group.
Image credit: The Other Richard