I HATE YOU MY MOTHER
I HATE YOU MY MOTHER, Real Harpy, White Box Theatre in association with Red Line Productions at the Old Fitz, 25 January-11 February 2017. Photography by Rupert Reid: Jeanette Cronin and Simen Glømmen Bostad
Being over-ambitious is the most forgivable flaw, especially in theatre where caution and not frightening the horses often come higher on the list of desirable qualities for an entertainment. And Jeanette Cronin’s ambition is sky-high in writing this multi-focused tale of four centuries, five scenarios and eight characters all in little more than an hour.
I Hate You My Mother begins in a consulting room at what is deemed in the program to be Morisset Psychiatric Hospital. There Patricia, an earnest therapist, is beaming at and warmly encouraging a young man to spill his guts about how his childhood babysitter did more than give him lollies in the garden shed. Patricia oozes sincerity and the professionally caring vibe but he’s not buying it.
The interaction between the two (Cronin and newcomer Simen Glømmen Bostad) is charged with the humour of the audience’s automatic reaction to Patricia’s zealous niceness as well as a contrasting if ill-defined unease. The latter is generated by Nate Edmondson’s sound design with echoing whispers in the opening moments hinting at something lurking in the shadows – of the past or the imagination, who knows.
In a sparse and mostly dark space whose main features are an arrangement of blue-white neon tubes and glass and metal furnishings (design Tyler Ray Hawkins, lighting Martin Kinnane), the unfolding narratives slip-slide through time and place. The common thread throughout is the innocence of children and the never-ending consequences when that is defiled.
Director Kim Hardwick corrals the energy and acting talents of the playwright/actor into coherence and meaning but is less successful with the multi-faceted episodic nature of the play. This is partly because there is nothing offered to identify the different characters and time/place if the program hasn’t been read beforehand and partly a mechanical problem of simple recognition.
Both actors wear the same predominantly white and timeless-anonymous costumes throughout and even though their accents change – from mod Oz, to Downton Abbey, to bog Ireland to Deep South cracker – they are neither enough nor comprehensible in anchoring the characters and drama. And while Cronin is a mistress of the credible quick change voice, Bostad has neither the experience nor ear – yet – to match her.
There are ideas and moments that illuminate and shock; leaps of imagination that take off into rarely visited corners of human behaviour, but a lot more work needs to go into the play before it reaches its full potential. A brave effort, but the drawing board calls.
On a practical note: in an auditorium the size of the Old Fitz, the smoking of several cigarettes in real time is not on. There are alternatives – not the ridiculous herbal cigarette which is just as bad for the allergic and asthmatic – because if actors can routinely kill and maim without actually causing harm they can do the fag thing that way too.