Kings Head Theatre, Islington – until 23 November 2019
Reviewed by Antonia Hebbert
A mother and her daughter live in a disused chapel on a rundown terrace in South Wales. The mother has advanced MS, the daughter has grown up as her carer. They are trapped by poverty and dependency. In a play that’s much more entertaining than it sounds, we are trapped with them in an endless cycle of repetitive days.
The claustrophobic performance space has a bed at each end and the audience on three sides. For Mam (superb Llinos Daniel), cups of tea, baked beans and chocolate have become hugely important in a shrunken life. You can almost feel her discomfort as she wakes up thirsty and uncomfortable, and her relish as she tucks in to toast, and energetically picks her teeth. For daughter Rita (equally superb Alis Wyn Davies, full of suppressed energy), each day promises the same irritations, chores and tedium, with only daydreams and cringe-making encounters with local boys to escape to. Like Rita, we come to dread Mam’s harsh cry for help at the start of the day. There is tenderness between them, but enforced closeness tips them towards loathing.
The pair alternate between talking at each other and talking to us. Welsh turns of phrase delivered in resonant Welsh voices add to the power of the piece. Also in the cast is Luke Rhodri, who appears entertainingly as various local boys, including one who may offer Rita a lifeline. The play’s ending doesn’t feel completely convincing, but this is a beautifully observed slice of life (despite odd moments that remind you it was written 35 years ago). The director is Sean Mathias, who is also the writer of the play, and based it partly on memories of his own mother caring for his bedbound father.