Honeyman transcends herself with aching tale of a misspent life

Honeyman transcends herself with aching tale of a misspent life

Peter Tromp reviews The Mother, now on at The Fugard Studio in Cape Town.


DIRECTOR: Janice Honeyman

CAST: Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Graham Hopkins, Sven Ruygrok, Amy-Louise Wilson

VENUE: The Fugard Studio until March 4

REVIEWER: Peter Tromp

‘The Mother’ is a production that will unsettle and fascinate you in almost equal measure. This at times confounding play demands quite a bit from its audience, but I find myself engrossed throughout. Dare I say, the almost capacity audience on the evening I attended felt the same way, as they appeared enraptured throughout.

I have never regarded Janice Honeyman as the most stylistically adventurous of directors, but I love that she has taken some notable risks here. Clarity is perhaps the defining characteristic when you think of a Honeyman production. She is one of our best narrative directors, if not our best. With a Honeyman helmed play, one expects the story to be the main focus and for it to be comprehensible at all times. At her worst, it can feel like spoon feeding, with little mystery left for one to plumb. At her best, she is simply a sublime tapestry weaver, creating fully formed worlds for one to escape into, not to mention possessing a real knack for getting fantastic performances from her actors (no different here). In her adaptation of a play that does not have a linear progression; that at times folds in on itself and collapses the audience’s sense of what might be real, she has significantly expanded her pallet.

‘The Mother’ can be boiled down in the simplest terms as follows: Anne (Anna-Mart van der Merwe) is a woman who has built her life around her family, her kids primarily, and her son Nicolas (Sven Ruygrok) specifically. In fact, her relationship with Nicolas appears somewhat unhealthy, bordering on the obsessive at times. After their two kids move out, Anne appears not to have anything anchoring her existence anymore. Her husband Pierre (Graham Hopkins) hints at the lack of balance in Anne’s life thus far by suggesting she develop some interests; things to fill her days with, instead of skulking around their cavernous home in her night clothes. The fact that he almost nonchalantly passes off this nugget of advice speaks to his own inattentiveness. One simply does not change one’s ways overnight. His own callousness might have dire consequences for the stability at home that he has taken for granted all this time, as Anne, feeling completely adrift and abandoned, seeks solace in the infernal cocktail of alcohol and pills, which results in her in grip on reality becoming more and more fractured.

In the most haunting line of the play, Anne expresses her anguish at a life lived solely in the service of others, even if they are precious loved ones: “What was it all for?” ‘The Mother’ will be relatable to almost anyone who has struggled to find a new purpose in life, or who has struggled to adapt to major changes in their lives. In its exploration of some uncomfortable, almost existential truths, Florian Zeller’s play will unsettle you in ways you might not be prepared for, but guiding us through it all is the deftest, most sensitive of hands.

* Book at Computicket.