Park Theatre – until 26 October 2019
Reviewed by Claire Roderick
How deep is a mother’s love for her child? Are there limits to that love when the child has committed a heinous crime? Evan Placey’s intense play is based on a real incident involving past schoolmates and features a powerhouse performance from Tracy-Ann Oberman as Brenda Kapowitz, a formidable single mother raising her two boys.
Matthew Kapowitz’s (Scott Folan) crime is not revealed at first, instead we see younger brother Jason reluctant to leave the house to go to school. The flashes and shouts as he opens the front door from the media scrum signal the seriousness of the crime, along with his mother’s reactions as she talks about Matthew. Matthew is under house arrest as he awaits sentencing for rape and lawyer and family friend Robert (Simon Hepworth) is trying to ensure that 17-year-old Matthew is sentenced as a child.
Written around the time when Madeleine McCann disappeared, Placey’s play focuses on the press and public interest in the mother, and their voracious and salacious appetite for finding fault and blame. Oberman prowls around the house as if she is in a 1940s melodrama, passionate, angry and magnificent. Folan as Matthew is almost monosyllabic about his crime and the consequences, only relaxing and becoming more human when around his little brother, until he suddenly returns to reality and almost phases out – a strong and convincing performance. Jason is played by Matt Goldberg and Hari Aggarwal, with Matt Goldberg wonderfully natural as the effusive eight-year-old struggling to cope with the situation. The other characters don’t make much of an impression (despite solid performances from the cast) as their roles are to present and confront Brenda with new problems, allowing Oberman to shine – just light the fuse and retreat to a safe distance. The play takes place over Hanukkah, but this Jewish family are having a Hanukkah from hell and trying not to tear each other apart. The scene where Jason insists on lighting the first candle of Hanukkah will make you laugh and cry as he cajoles Brenda and Matthew into doing everything properly. The ridiculous visuals soon melt behind tears as Matthew sings like an angel and the frightened child behind the sullen teenager shines through. Oberman’s emotional journey plumbs the depths of a mother’s soul, and after all the amazing histrionics, it is her quiet and shattering account of meeting one of Matthew’s victim’s mother that hits hardest, as she realises that the woman is the only one who truly understands what she is going through.
Lee Newby’s set is monotone grey – milk cartons, TVs, phones – everything is grey, signalling that this family’s home has already become a prison. The multifunctional set is like an IKEA fetishist’s dream, with blocks being rearranged to create various rooms in the house. This is ingenious but a little time consuming, so radio interviews and Vox pops are played over the scene changes, ramping up the pressure on Brenda as the public sit in judgement on her and her perceived failings as a mother.
Mother of Him is an intense and powerful drama, with Tracy-Ann Oberman at her very best.