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A CurtainUp Review
In the tiny Bush theatre the oppressive set clearly conveys life in an untidy kitchen where the children's toys constantly need picking up, their food plates need clearing away and washing up, their discarded clothes everywhere. This is Bullmore's theme, the way in which children fill up the space leaving little room for anything else. Are we responsible social animals or just animals?
Jane (Niamh Cusack) is not coping very well with looking after Betty aged four (Helena Lymberry) and six year old Jess, (Jane Hazlegrove). She is tired, depressed, shouts at the children -- and is at the end of her maternal tether. The play is driven by Kev's (Daniel Ryan) announcement that he thinks he is in love with "someone else". This new, and as yet unrealised, love has blossomed on one of his many business conference weeks away from home.
Just when Jane and Kev "need to talk", Phil (Mark Bonnar) and Lorna (Nancy Carroll) arrive early on a short visit from Edinburgh. Their relationship too is under strain as Lorna discloses to Jane that she still hankers after another more passionate affair.
The play's biting strength is in the dialogue. Bullmore's words on the written page are neat, funny, apposite, naturalistic. These are real conversations that witty people have in real situations. Jane talks about her sisters (one getting promoted, the other travelling to Bhutan) and her own life cooking pasta. She envies Kev's round of business engagements while he says he loves being at home. The arguments are finely balanced and well expressed.
There are nice contrasts, between the men as well -- Kev married twelve years and drawn to another Phil who chooses to stay in his relationships until the women leave him. Kev's urges are the mammalian, the desire to spread his seed far and wide while Phil and Jane are restrained, protective of the family unit. Laura is the actualisation of Kev's female counterpart, a woman who not only wants to, but follows her desires. Bullmore delightfully captures the frisson of Kev's "new"love phenomenon, those stolen moments leaving each other messages on their mobile phones, so much more exciting than the tedium of a twelve year old marriage littered with children and their debris.
The problem with Mammals is the centrality of the child parts. On this occasion adults play the role, fully grown adults, not the diminutive child specialists we see in the likes of Les Mis. It did not work for me. I couldn't identify with the mother trying to control her children because what she was trying to control were two adults obviously enjoying the pouting and thumb sucking. Helena Lymberry and Jane Hazlegrove entered into their roles with admirable gusto but the wall they have to climb is the wall which suspends belief and it was too high. I am not always averse to adults playing children but with children as young as these, it is especially fraught. What fails to impact is the devastating effect that Kev leaving the family would have on these very small children who are more tyrannical than biddable. Maybe it is the children who personify mammalian instinct, the truly self centred, self interest driven creatures?
With her exact observation and clever turn of phrase, I shall certainly make a point of seeing Amelia Bullmore's next play.
Mendes at the Donmar
Peter Ackroyd's History of London: The Biography
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6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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