Mum Review

Soho Theatre – until 20 November 2021


Reviewed by Claire Roderick

Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s emotional and unsettling new play will leave you shaken with its portrayal of early motherhood.

Nina (Sophie Melville) loves her 3 month old son Ben, but after a traumatic birth soon after the death of her mother she is not coping and can’t bring herself to ask for help. Her husband and brother-in-law give her something that she’s been dreaming of – a night to herself – as they take Ben to Pearl’s house for the night. Nina’s friend Jackie (Cat Simmons) comes over for pizza, wine and a catch up. Wine, guilt and exhaustion combine to produce a tsunami of confessions and truths from Nina, as she finally finds an outlet to voice the turmoil of conflicting emotions that come with motherhood. A phone call from Pearl soon turns their world upside down as Ben is rushed to hospital and an investigation begins. The structure of the play fractures along with Nina’s life, and scenes that could be flashbacks, misremembered events twisted by emotions and time or hallucinations intercut with the present.

Director Abigail Graham sensitive direction showcases the astonishing actors and writing. The simple set – a giant cloud mobile hanging above the stage – is lit brilliantly, working with excellent sound design to enhance the tension and confusion.

Morgan Lloyd’s writing is at it’s best during Nina’s descriptions of childbirth and her loss of her sense of self. Melville is devastating as Nina – full of frenetic energy and utterly convincing in her ambivalence, letting slip the things she would like to do to her baby in her darkest moments and the next second overflowing with adoration for him. The early scenes with Simmons are laugh out loud funny as Nina opens up about the reality of motherhood. Simmons is full of warmth as friend Jackie, a health professional, laughing reassuring Nina that all of the dark thoughts she is having are normal, but gently reminding Nina that she can get help. When Jackie has to choose between friendship and what is best for Nina and Ben, Simmons portrays the misery, frustration and professionalism of the character quietly and naturally. Denise Black plays mother-in-law Pearl and Nina’s mother brilliantly. The two are at opposite ends of the maternal spectrum with Nina’s mother honest never missing an opportunity to tell her that motherhood ruined her life, while Pearl is in the smotherhood camp, resulting in David being a man child whose absence from the play indicates his impact as a parent and partner. Pearl’s unconditional love for her son soon turns to suspicion of Nina, and the pair face off in a memorable encounter.

The final scene may be decisive, but it was thrilling to hear so many audience members chatting about their different interpretations of the play’s ending. An emotional rollercoaster of a play, Mum is a funny, devastatingly honest exploration of mental health and motherhood.

If you or anyone you know has been affected by the themes and issues explored in MUM, we have provided a number of helplines and charities below which you may find helpful for further information and support.

Perinatal Mental Health

Pandas Foundation – provides emotional and practical support for families and their networks who may be suffering with or affected by perinatal mental illness, including prenatal (antenatal) and postnatal depression.

Maternal Mental Health Alliance – provides extensive resources and links to national and local charities which can provide support on the link below

Mental Health

Samaritans – provides emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide. 08457 90 90 90

Mind – provides information and advice to people with mental health problems and lobbies government and local authorities on their behalf.

Bereavement and Grief At A Loss – the UK’s signposting website for bereaved people, ensuring they and those supporting them find information and services appropriate to their loss

Marie Curie – provides a free support line and a wealth of information and support on all aspects of dying, death and bereavement. They also provide frontline nursing and hospice care throughout the UK.