Mother and Son // Ipswich Musical Theatre Company

The bond between a mother and her son is so very special. As time passes, unfortunately, the roles can become reversed – instead of a mother caring for her son, the son becomes the carer for his mother. Ipswich Musical Theatre Company has taken on the challenge of bringing the beloved story of Mother and Son to the stage.

Written by Geoffrey Atherden, Mother and Son centres around a very relatable relationship between Arthur and his elderly mother, Maggie. Maggie is slowly losing her memory and can no longer live alone, so it has become Arthur’s job to take care of his mother. Arthur is also trying to plan a three-week trip away to Broome with his girlfriend and must ask his brother Robert if he and his wife, Liz, will look after Maggie. When Maggie has a mini stroke after Arthur
leaves for his trip, he must take a serious look at Maggie’s current situation and think about the possibility of respite care.

Most audience members would know that this play is based off the popular 1980s sitcom of the same name. The play has recently been re-written by Atherden in order for more contemporary references. By having the play more up-to-date, it allowed the audience toreally see themselves within the characters they were watching. The topic of adult children struggling with the medical problems of an elderly parent or grandparent is something that
every audience member can relate to and it definitely tugs on the heart strings.

The direction by Adrian Carr was very well done – from Maggie putting the lightbulb in her mouth so she could climb a ladder to change a ceiling light to the oven smoking when Maggie burned the fish fingers. The comedy within the play was charming and the timing of all characters definitely hit the comedic nail on the head. While the show is mostly a comedy, it still does cover the serious issue of struggling with an ill, elderly parent. It would
have been nice if there had been a few more moments where the actors took a second to acknowledge the actual seriousness and reality of the situation they were in. Especially since there may have been audience members in an almost identical situation in real life.

The sound and lighting by Dan Hallan and Jacob Olsen was extremely professional. Whenever a phone rang during the show, the sound finished at the exact time when the actor clicked the ‘answer’ button on their phone. Even when Arthur was watching TV, you could hear the murmuring sound of the football match or the movie being watched. The lighting cues were also accurate down to the second – particularly when the lamps in Maggie’s house were being turned on and off.

When walking into the theatre, you were definitely taken aback by how impressive the set looked. Simone Behrendorff did a fantastic job of dressing the set to make the space feel very cosy. There were family photos on the wall, crystalware in the cabinets and cutlery and utensils in the kitchen. The set was so big and detailed, but in one person’s opinion, it did make the overall experience feel more like sitting in the audience of a sitcom being filmed rather than enjoying a play at a theatre. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just a surprise to what one might have been expecting when seeing a play based on a sitcom.

The relationship between Maggie (Martie Blanchett) and Arthur (Michael Lawrence) was certainly a highlight of the show. You could see the frustration building within Lawrence throughout the show and Blanchett maintaining her sweet, innocent demeanour while completely unaware she is repeating a story she has told a thousand times. Even the shift in demeanour Blanchett showed when pinning the brothers against each other about her being
placed in a home was diabolical.

Shane Mallory’s portrayal of Robert allowed the audience to experience an instant ‘dislike’ for the character. Audience members could feel Arthur’s frustration and annoyance at Mallory’s positivity and assumption that taking care of Maggie is not as difficult as Arthur makes it out to be. Liz (EJ Campbell) is the typical chic, stylish mother of two that every mother wishes they could be. While a little soft spoken at times, Campbell’s flair and dismissiveness towards her mother-in-law is fabulously relatable to audience members.

Stephanie Collins gave a very sweet portrayal of Anita, Arthur’s girlfriend. Also a little soft spoken in certain scenes, Collins displayed a genuine sense of nervousness around Maggie at first – which is what you would expect meeting your boyfriend’s mother for the first time and she gradually became more confident in her interactions with Maggie.

For the short time Susan Glosko was on stage as Monica, the audience fell in love with her and adored the friendship instantly building between her and Maggie. Olivia Bird as Steph/Rita was so sweet and patient that it makes you forget about the stereotype that social workers are cold and distant.

The Facetime videos between Maggie, Bronte (Shivawn Macdonald-Mall) and Jarrod (Jesse Frommelt) gave a very realistic representation of what it can be like when grandchildren are forced to have conversations with their grandparents when they would rather be doing literally anything else. The argument that broke out between the children over whose room Grandma will stay in is hilariously realistic with yelling, the camera falling over and Jarrod pulling Bronte’s hair – a typical brother/sister relationship. While the children were listed in the program, it was a shame that they weren’t mentioned in the ‘opening credits’ of the show.

Ipswich Musical Theatre Company’s Mother and Son seems to have had quite a successful season with two additional shows added as well as extra seats added to all other shows. If you didn’t make it to see this show, you certainly missed out.

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