Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Mother's Love

The Hackney Empire is a grand old thing. It’s also one of the few theatres in London I haven’t visited before. So, striding up to the entrance (on time and not out of breath, for once), I found myself feeling rather excited. Then I spotted the large and unwelcoming chains that were holding the doors closed. Hmm. I scrutinised my notepad and noticed the word ‘studio’ scribbled in amongst my other random doodlings. So I wandered around to the side of the building and found the correct entrance, joined the queue waiting (and waiting – they didn’t let us in until almost fifteen minutes after the start time) to see A Mother Speaks.

This one-woman show, written and performed by Judd Batchelor, tackles gun crime in London and its awful aftermath. Batchelor uses broad humour and shock tactics to hammer home her message. Dressed in a tatty toweling dressing gown, she describes her life as the mother of a young son. In a casual, chatty style, she talks about his birth, his first day at school, the first time she realized he was having sex. And then, bang, his life is over, ended, cancelled out by a bullet - and the play, up until then a rambling monologue, flips into something different and darker. To the point where the whole thing was in danger of pitching into the ridiculous.

This twist – the bereaved mother is no passive figure here, instead she acts out a brutal revenge on her son’s killers – is unsubtle in the extreme and I struggled to take the play seriously as a result. But though Susie McKenna’s production is rather basic in its staging and in its dramatic approach, it clearly connected with the mostly young and local audience on the night I was there. Fidgety and noisy at first, there were audible gasps and whimpers as the play progressed. So it was clearly working on some level, even if it left me cold. The closing photo montage, a collage of young lives lost through gun or knife violence on the streets of London in the past year, had its own power and though I found the play pretty heavy-handed stuff, the shocked and uncomfortable faces I noticed as I left the theatre, forced me to put my own responses into context.

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