Park Theatre, London
Theatre Review: Adult Supervision - A sparky play about the mixed-race middle class
Friday 11 October 2013
It's US election night in 2008 and Natasha, a white ex-lawyer who has adopted two Ethiopian children, seizes on this as the ideal opportunity to throw a drinks party in her home for the "very small community" of other "mothers of children of colour" at their posh, fee-paying North London school.
Natasha is a parent who insists on doing things by the book and her aim in getting to know these women is to rustle up some non-white playmates for her offspring. But her meticulously planned evening hurtles off the rails as the Obamatinis flow and inhibitions are shed.
Mixed-race, middle-class families get barely a look-in in stage drama. So all the more reason to welcome Sarah Rutherford's new play which takes a very funny, provocative and well-informed look (she herself has two children by a black partner) at "Beige Britain" and its racial and social tensions.
The crucial comic stroke is that the hostess Natasha (hilariously played by Susannah Doyle) is a brittle, uptight control freak whose PC absurdities and competitive approach to motherhood (she's taught her little girl to scream "This is not a petting zoo. I am not an exotic animal" if anyone attempts to touch her hair) turn the evening into a minefield of potential faux pas.
She's contrasted with her catastrophically gauche and garrulous friend Izzy (lovely Olivia Poulet) whose children are "so white they're almost transparent" and whose well-meaning efforts to be affectionately colour-blind are excruciatingly tactless
Neither Amy Robbins's earthy, white Mo nor Jacqueline Boatswain's glamorous (and heavily pregnant) black Angela are best pleased when they realise that they've been been invited only because they have mixed-race children.
Mo maintains that Obama ought to refer to himself as "mixed-race" ("If my kids grow up to call themselves black I'll be f****** hurt") and both women attest to the insidious prejudice of their in-laws ("How black?" was the first question his mother asked Angela's future husband).
The revelation that leaves all the mothers frantically worried about their spouses and older children who have gone camping that night on the common struck me as contrived and implausible and the play lost some of its shine for me from that point.
But Jez Bond's sparky production charts the descent into mayhem with engaging wit as the alarming extent of Natasha's rigid, theory-based parenting is exposed and as Izzy launches into a drunken, gloriously incoherent aria of self-pity about the multi-cultural conspiracy that has left decent, confused white folk afraid to open their mouths for fear of committing some hate crime.
To 3 November; 0207 870 6876
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