Bristol Theatre Reviews

Review: Mother at the Alma Tavern Theatre

Molly is a whirlwind. She talks nineteen to the dozen, jumps from thought to thought, struggles to focus but brings bags of warmth, energy and wit to everything – even to those testing mean-o-pause symptoms that start to plague middle aged women. The theme was warmly, possibly literally, welcomed by knowing members of the audience, delighted at feeling seen.

Whether writer David Martin intended to create a perfectly rounded character with ADHD is unknown, but it was very successfully done, even if by accident.

Mother is a one-person play told through the perspective of Molly. Other characters are brought into it throughout, deftly portrayed in a thrilling and entertaining performance.

Actor Emma Smart is simply marvelous. The writing demands a strong grip of comic timing, even when delving into some very dark issues. But, the standing ovation at the end was fully deserved.

The story initially unravels through menopause symptoms. A confusing fog where Molly tries to remember things. People. Why she came into the room. Or is there more to the forgetfulness that we find out later? As she starts becoming more together, the show bursts into life, a little like watching Miranda on double time or boosted with amphetamines.

We move through a series of flashbacks as the story is told. You sense after a while that there’s a twist coming. But even if you look for clues the script manages to keep the surprise hidden well.

There’s a strong backdrop of authentic pop music, cultural references and fashion of the 80s and 90s which cleverly measures the passage of time.

Molly is in her 50s when the show starts. Through flashbacks, we find out she gets pregnant at 16, ends up marrying and having two much-loved children.

Her husband turns out to be abusive. And develops a Friar Tuck style bald spot. And a threatening Vinnie Jones mockney accent when threatening to kill his wife and children. We initially learn about the abuse through the way Molly behaves as the story progresses. The number of drinks she pours herself in rapid succession. Her children hiding in the attic to feel safe. The tiptoeing on egg shells, trying not to say the wrong thing to spark him off.

Despite the humour and gusto with which events are regaled to the audience, the story builds up to shocking revelations which have dire consequences. In some of those darker moments burn the embers of dark humour, the foundations of those jokes having been carefully laid throughout the evening.

As each development is unpeeled, we have the wonderfully sinister Watch With Mother.

The descriptive language personifying Karma as member of the persisterhood is another beautiful moment.

If this was a Netflix limited series, it would be one earning ‘Mother – Ending Explained’ come the end, with hints of Groundhog Day and perhaps even It’s a Wonderful Life.

Mother is a gripping piece of theatre. It’s funny, dark and brings you in for a thrilling ride. This is all thanks to its clever writing combined with the wonderful performance of Emma Smart.

The Alma Tavern Theatre is consistently curating a programme of really high quality and entertaining theatre, punching well above its weight. Mother is another winner of a production. The delighted murmurings of its appreciative audience as they spilled out into Clifton means you should snap a ticket up before it sells out.

Mother is on at the Alma Tavern Theatre until Friday 09 June 2023

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