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The Courtyard presents

Mother of Him



by Evan Placey


Director: Guy Retallack


Designer: John Bell


Lighting Designer: Guilano Bocca


Courtyard Theatre


2 June – 4 July 2010





A review by James Buxton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

The Courtyard theatre sits on the corner of Pitfield Street in Hoxton, a vibrant area of contrasts, where chip shops sit beside bicycle juice bars and flamboyant hipsters share the street with eccentric tramps.  The Courtyard, a former public library, is situated just round the corner from the site of The Theatre, London's first ever purpose built play-house (1576). Built just outside the confines of the City, it was not subject to its laws, which banned theatres as they distracted the workers. In the last decade, Hoxton has reclaimed its status as a trendy hang out after centuries of neglect.

It appears to be the start of an ordinary day for single mother, Brenda Kapowitz, (Madeline Potter) preparing breakfast for her 8 year old son, Jason (Gideon Leibowitz or William Byrne) and packing him off to school, but when he leaves through the back door, camera flashes fill the room as the noise of the Canadian press, camped outside their door, assaults their lives. For Brenda's 15 year old son Matthew, has been charged with the rape of three girls. Over the course of the eight nights of Hanukkah, the gradual breakdown of Brenda ensues alongside the deterioration of her relationship with her son. While her friend and lawyer Robert Rosenberg (Dale Rapley) attempts to get to the bottom of the events to avoid Matthew being tried as an adult, he also mediates between mother and son. The arrival of ex-husband Steven (Chris Gilling) in the second act only infuriates Brenda till the pressure gets too much and she starts to lose her grip.

Placey's play takes the cunning decision of concentrating on Brenda as opposed to Matthew, for the play focuses on her attempt to keep her family together, rather than the issue of rape which Placey uses to explore the lengths of what a mother will do to protect her son.

Matthew is under house arrest which is an apt concept for a play, meaning all the action remains in the confines of their home. The play is set in a modern, open plan house with a kitchen area and living room with grey walls. A set of stairs upstage goes to a mezzanine section where Matthew's bed is visible; Bell's design allows the audience to witness Brenda's turmoil while Matthew sleeps all day long. The invasion of the press is innovatively created, whenever the front or back door is opened through an explosion of flashes and strobe lighting, while the sound of a rising din assaults our ears.

Retallack creates a sense of the overwhelming media intrusion, with  any modicum of privacy denied, as nuisance callers ring Brenda's mobile and the sound of live debates discussing the rape charge are played.  At intervals the light changes from naturalistic to frosty blue and ambient electronic music is played as letters stream through the post-box, or a new character enters. This sudden effect was quite striking and gave a sense of their imprisonment and the gravity of Matthew's crime.

Madeleine Potter as Brenda Kapowitz portrays a high flying, single mother driven to the edge of sanity with admirable skill and naturalism. Potter is fully immersed in the role, conveying the toughness of a single mother balancing the roles of mother, father, friend and cook, as she immerses herself in domestic chores while attempting to avoid the madness that is going on outside her front door. Yet her pretence of normality can only handle so much and as she discusses with Matthew his new TV, folding his bed sheets, she asks suddenly “Why did you do it?” When she confronts him with this remark we are jolted out of her charade.  In the second half, Potter becomes much more paranoid and all her sympathy for her son disappears, replaced by a cold, unforgiving woman who can no longer even call herself his mother. Her accent remains throughout a high pitched, saccharine Canadian.

Initially in purple dress with empire waist belt and cardigan, she looks just like a professional architect, later in the play as the pressure gets to her she argues with her son in her dressing gown, her red hair out of place and make up in disarray, it is impossible not to feel compassion for a   mother under such exceptional circumstances.

Tom Golding as Matthew Kapowitz depicts a typical, moody teenage boy, getting up late, gelling his hair and slumbering down stairs in his hoodie and shorts. Golding captures the apathetic nature of Matthew and his inability to recognize the severity of his crimes. Golding also effectively displays Matthew's growing frustration and rage at being under house arrest and his unrepentant attitude. Potter has a dynamic relationship with the brooding Golding. with much of their attitude shown through their body language and the awkward silences they share.

Gideon Leibowitz as Jason is clearly a young star in the making, his ability to sustain the character for such a long play is testament to his stamina. His performance as the mischievous, outgoing Jason caught in the middle of a media frenzy is so natural that you might think he's not even acting but that may also be partly down to his age and the lack of self consciousness that children have. Leibowitz shows a fun loving young boy, reluctant to go to school and too young to grasp what is going on around him. There is a clear attachment between Potter and Liebowitz that creates a touching intimacy, however when he is beaten up by older kids for his brother's crime, Jason becomes more insular, wearing Matthew's hoodie, gelling his hair and rebelling against his mother in contrast to his previous, sweet, happy nature . His snow boots and woolly hat contribute to creating the snowy weather of Toronto outside their front door.

Dale Rapley as Robert the lawyer maintains a measured control in contrast to Potter's emotional outburst, displaying a shrewdness and awareness of the media coverage, advising her to go and buy milk with Jason so the press can get a motherly image of her. Rapley's performance is of a constantly high quality.

Evan Placey's play, Mother of Him is the winner of the 2009, King's Cross Award for New Writing and Canada's Under 30 National Playwriting Award at the Tarragon Theatre. With such achievements, inevitably expectations are high, but does Mother of Him live up to its hype? Placey's play is an intriguing meditation on the lengths a mother will take to protect her family and succeeds in creating a sense of the ineluctable media invasion of their lives. At times the play may drag and the presence of support characters such as a cleaner (Sarah Cherkowey) and ex girlfriend (Jennifer Thompson)  do not really advance the drama - perhaps they could have been cut, shortening the play and making it a little pacier and more gripping. At its’ core however, it is a fine piece of writing and Placey should be commended for engaging with relevant social taboos and giving us an extraordinary insight into the family of the rapist as opposed to the victim, whilst also exposing the sensationalism of the tabloids. 



The Courtyard Theatre
Bowling Green Walk
40 Pitfield Street
N1 6EU

2nd June 2010 to 4th July 2010 - 7.45pm
(No Monday performances)

Price: £16.00, £12 (concessions)


OR CALL 08444 771 000








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