Mother Adam, Jermyn Street Theatre, London
Friday 18 May 2012
Resplendent in a tangerine toque and monitoring her middle-aged son with a manipulative, faux-beaten-dog wariness, Linda Marlowe's marvellous Mammles looks like the lost love child of Gloria Swanson and Albert Steptoe in Gene David Kirk's revelatory and richly entertaining revival of Mother Adam (1971).
The piece is one of the so-called “Lonely Trilogy” by the great and under-valued Charles Dyer. The most frequently performed is Rattle of a Simple Man but this production, the first significant staging since 1973, firmly establishes Mother Adam as both the most wildly and weirdly comic and the most touching of the trio.
Dyer's pair could give the Hamm and Clov of Beckett's Endgame a run for their money in the claustrophobic co-dependency department. Mammles was once a missionary in India but now in this “shattered attic” (a cluttered eyrie of evocative memorabilia in Cherry Truluck's excellent design), she is bedridden, crippled by arthritis, and reduced to sneering at the world via an angled mirror. For the last fifteen years, her son Adam, a downwardly mobile museum curator, has danced attendance upon her.
An unimaginative director would have cast one of nature's mummy's boys in the role of this deeply frustrated (and conceivably virginal) character whom “Mrs God” has further unmanned by keeping the secret of his paternity (or so she claims) locked in her Edwardian trunk and by taunting him with his intrepid forebears' allegedly unfailing knack of getting themselves horribly martyred.
But you somehow feel that the desire to wear a pinny is not in the genes of the burly, brilliant Jasper Britton. The desperation comes over all the more powerfully. In a dazzling tour de force of tragicomic acting, his Adam shows you a man who can only survive by turning the religious and domestic rituals of a typical Sunday into a mad vaudeville of private language baby-talk (“cross your huddle and hope to daddle?”), torrential cascades of Joycean word-play (“They are not many the silked-loined years”) and antic impersonations of unctuous vicars and a whole gallery of authority figures.
Relishing the chewy bravura of Dyer's language, the endlessly elastic Britton convinces you that there is thwarted genius in Adam who here, at one point, brews tea by shaking the pot as though it were Mammles's neck and, at another, cuts her toe nails with a tenderly intimate absorption. Like Gene David Kirk's beautifully sensitive direction, the performance reminds you that the “game” is there to support and stimulate Mammles as well as challenge her.
To June 2; 0207 287 2875
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