The Mother, Florian Zeller’s companion piece to The Father, is currently onstage at the Fugard Theatre, starring the phenomenal Anna-Mart van der Merwe, under direction of the equally amazing Janice Honeyman.
This staging is the South African premiere of The Mother, originally in French, translated into English by Christopher Hampton. It took me a few days to gather my thoughts to write this Scene It, as much like The Father, The Mother requires you to pause, reflect, almost emotionally digest the turmoil you witnessed of a life falling apart.
While The Father highlights the frustration and confusion linked to Alzheimer, this time around you are left contemplating the ‘life’ of a woman, Anne, struggling against the demons of empty nest depression. She has given all of her life to her family, and now she has now life left to live for herself, as her absent husband and grown-up, preoccupied children have all moved on in one way or another.
Anna-Mart van der Merwe proves herself a master at her craft, going from caring mother to banshee screaming wrathful woman with the greatest of skill. Her character Anne, and the turmoil she brings to the stage, is balanced by the (presumably) cheating ways of her husband Pierre, who Graham Hopkins interprets with just enough arrogance and conceit that you almost want to get onstage and slap him on Anne’s behalf… so job well done for getting exactly the right emotional reaction from the audience to protectively side with Anne.
As her son, Nicholas, Sven Ruygrok is mostly convincing as he yo-yos between mommy’s boy and spoiled brat. His interpretation of a Nicholas bewitched by his girlfriend Élodie seemed a bit out of kilter in the greater tone, though not sufficiently so that it detracted from the impact of the play. I would however have liked to see an amplified malicious temptress from Amy-Louis Wilson (Élodie) to truly make it believable that her actions could send Anne over the edge. Don’t get me wrong, Amy-Louis Wilson’s performance is not bad, it just doesn’t stand out as much as I personally think it can.
However, let us get back to the star of the show and the reason you definitely want to buy tickets to see The Mother. In her portrayal of Anne, Anna-Mart van der Merwe’s body language as subtext shouts as loudly as the spoken word, with anxious fidgets and nervous gestures revealing her suppressed agitation fuelled personality. This is complimented by her passive aggressive tone and repeated declarations that she is in fact very happy for her husband and children and the lives they get to lead.
In a darkly amusing way she starts revealing her fears, until by the end you realise that somewhere along the line a laugh became a painful smirk, and ultimately completely disappeared, as you align your emotions with that of Anne, fighting against the inevitable reality of abandonment in search of ever illusive happiness.
Although the looped repetition in the piece as far as character interactions are concerned may appear somewhat tedious and annoying at first contemplation, it does in my opinion serve a purpose in emphasising the in limbo nature of a dull purposeless life that lends itself to resentment and see-me-please humiliating outbursts. Anne is constantly thinking about nothing and obsessing about everything, stuck in despair. Anna-Mart van der Merwe gives such a unique voice to Anne’s character and her melancholy meltdown that it will still echo in your soul as you exit the Fugard Studio Theatre.
Janice Honeyman must be applauded for her casting choice and direction of Anna-Mart van der Merwe and her emotive interpretation of Anne as a ‘missing’ person. I could recommend booking your tickets to see The Mother, purely based on that. However, it is also true that the family dynamics at play inevitably and undeniably will also strike a chord with everyone at some level… everyone is someone’s child after all, even if we aren’t all mothers.
Special mention must be made of the complimentary tones in the set design by Birrie le Roux, assisted by associate set designer Rocco Pool. The set amplifies the emotions at play in The Mother. It is striking in its selective and prominent use of the colour red, contrasted against an otherwise subdued canvas of white and faded greens: vibrant in its indication of youthful lushness (something Anne longs for), as well as sounding the alarm of danger and pending (self)destruction.
In an ideal world, I would have loved to see The Mother staged before The Father, as Florian Zeller wrote The Mother as his first of the trilogy, followed by The Father and ending it all off with The Truth. The last scenes in The Mother (which in general comparison is a slower, more static piece) hints to the frantic confusion which is emphasised in The Father, and makes for a natural progression when the two are viewed as a complimentary continuation.
The plays are however brilliant as stand-alones too, so don’t let my theatrical daydreams detract you from seeing The Mother. On the contrary. I think if you saw The Father and loved Zeller’s style, you will definitely appreciate his early work, noting that The Mother is four years The Father’s ‘senior’. And if you didn’t see The Father? Well, as mentioned, Anna-Mart van der Merwe is acting her heart out in this one, and that honestly is all the incentive you need to buy your tickets today already!
The Mother runs until 4 March 2017, with tickets available at Computicket. It must just be mentioned that there is an age restriction of 16, as The Mother contains some scenes with mature language and hints of nudity. Want to know more about The Mother? Take a look here at the Spotlight interview with Anna-Mart van der Merwe: