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A CurtainUp London Review
The language is the first thing which strikes you as Dyer’s way with words for this old lady (Linda Marlowe) recalling numerous missionary relatives and her bachelor museum curator son (Jasper Britton) is rich and elaborate. There is also the special vocabulary these two have developed; for example, Adam calls his mother Mummles.
The mother is bed ridden with just her son to care for her but hopes that he might marry Bettya, the piano teacher we never meet. We are in no doubt that her interest lies in securing her care by a daughter in law. She is badly crippled with hands reddened and stiff from arthritis and eating is such an uncomfortable experience, Adam has rigged up a curtain for her to eat behind, away from the glare of others. Her only experience of the outside world is from a mirror fixed by her bed which gives a view into the churchyard where we hear the church bells ringing.
Adam is an actor manqué as he presents various performances for her— a university lecturer lecturing or a parson preaching from atop the stepladder, an improvised pulpit decorated with a lace trimmed apron. He loves putting on his Admiral’s uniform and striding into the park. But despite the stories of her missionary antecedents and their grizzly fate abroad at the hands of those not yet converted, there is one story which the mother refuses to tell, a secret she guards. That's how she became pregnant and gave birth to Adam. He is convinced by her that the answer lies in the mysterious trunk which she guards and forbids him to open and he dreams of a colourful and famous father. This Pandora’s Box will be opened and of course nothing will be as rich as what has been dreamed of.
The play is beautifully acted by both actors: Linda Marlow wearing a turban to match the bed spread decoration, her only source of power, filial guilt and the information about his paternity. This is enough for him to dub her Mrs God. Jasper Britton shows an immense range as Adam, myriad accents and parts, full of pathos as one listening to the missionary tales of cannibalism and killing looks for excitement of his own. He has been downgraded in the museum where he works into a worker who wears a brown coat rather than a white one and he fears that his greatest achievement would be putting out a fire in an inkwell. We feel for him when he expresses his dream of a secret, warm girl.
Dyer’s vivid word pictures conjure a world beyond the crowded and cramped attic room for two lives now defined by tragic and lonely limits.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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