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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Mum's The Word
By Liza Zapol

There may be a time when you are past the post-birth bliss, when you look at them and the word arsehole passes through your head..This is bad. This is permanent. --Deborah
Barbara Pollard, Cathy Tyson, Imogen Stubbs, Jenny Eclair,  Carol Decker, Patsy Palmer
Barbara Pollard, Cathy Tyson, Imogen Stubbs, Jenny Eclair, Carol Decker, Patsy Palmer (Photo: Francis Loney)
Mum's the Word may be Canada's hottest new theatrical export. This play is all about the women who nurture, love, and sometimes fantasize about killing their babies: mothers.

The show was created ten years ago by six actresses in Vancouver, Canada, who gathered to compare stories of their (combined) ten children. Six characters, named after the original writers, tell their realistic and humorous stories. Having had successful runs in Canada, America, Australia, Scotland, and a UK tour, Mum's the Word has now arrived in he West End with a star cast.

When I arrive at the Albery theatre, the garish graphics on the publicity and the playroom-like set make me fear the worst. A giant mobile of Anne Geddes-like babies on clouds float over a large purple crayon colored house, with projections of white clouds flying past in the blue sky behind the house. I prepared to be lectured about the beauty of motherhood.

Once the cast take their places in six mismatched chairs, I realize how refreshing it is to see six women on a West End stage. Linda (Imogen Stubbs) jumps into a demonstration of the internal monologue of a woman in labour, using her chair in quite creative ways, and I realize I will not be lectured tonight.

The play involves a series of brilliant, well-written monologues about motherhood, broken up by scenes and interruptions. They run from comic routines to serio-comedy, and rarely venturing into melodrama.

Favorites, from over 30 stories, include a rant from Alison (Cathy Tyson) who is on the brink of collapse trying to get her baby to fall asleep. She bobs up and down throughout the monologue, with and without her child in her arms, portraying the absurdity and craziness she feels. This monologue is certainly Cathy Tyson at her best: in the rest of her play she portrays a much more contained character and her acting doesn't reach the height it does in this monologue.

Deborah (Jenny Eclair) does a wonderful portrayal of a mother on the town, living vicariously through her single friends, while repulsing them when recounting a vomiting and diarrhea spell from her son the night before. Jenny Eclair's timing is impeccable and she is able to send up every line she speaks, leaving the audience eagerly anticipating her stage time.

Imogen Stubbs' Linda is frustrated with her husband and leaves him tomes of criticism written on colored paper and stuck on the fridge. Stubbs is a fantastic actress, and physically the most agile of the six. Carol Decker (of T'Pau fame) and Patsy Palmer (Eastenders) do not hold the stage next to their more dynamic sisters (co-Mums?). In fact, Carol Decker seemed to be looking back at the other women for approval and help through her monologues.

The actress who is the fullest and most realistic in her role is the one actress who created the role she portrays: the Canadian Barbara Pollard. She retells each story with incredible specificity and vivid imagery. Her story of her abandoned and fermented dirty nappy bin will remain seared in my mind forever. Pollard is confident with the stories, funny in the accuracy of her portrayal and compelling to watch. She also seems the most engaged when the other actresses are speaking their monologues.

Director Wayne Harrison mainly relies on a static group therapy-like setting, where five of the women are sitting while one stands and speaks. In between the monologues are sporadically placed scenes involving five or all six of the women. These scenes are often more dynamic than the monologues, though they don't seem to use the full potential of the stage or the physical theatre talents of the women on stage. There are several hilarious surprises which broke up the rhythm on stage just when the play seemed to be getting formulaic.

Until you see it, Mum's the Word!

Mum's the Word
by Linda A. Carson, Jill Daum, Alison Kelly, Robin Nichol, Barbara Pollard and Deborah Williams Directed by Wayne Harrison
Set and Costume Design by Judy Reaves
Starring: Carol Decker, Jenny Eclair, Patsy Palmer, Barbara Pollard, Imogen Stubbs, Cathy Tyson
Lighting Design by Gavin Norris
Sound Design by Gregory Clarke
Running Time: 2 hours, includes 15 minute intermission
Albery Theatre, St Martins Lane, London WC2
Evenings Mon-Sat 7:30 Matinee Weds 2:30; Sat 3:30 -- £10.00 - £49.75
Booking to 7th June 2003
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