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Waynetta in The Slobs

 

 

 

[Smaller review]


The Guardian , 5 April 2006

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3/5

By Michael Billington

Truth alone doesn't make a play. Anyone who has dealt with a sick parent will recognise the bilious accuracy of Carmel Morgan's study of a mum and two siblings. But, for all her schooling in Brookside and Coronation Street, Morgan in her stage debut strangely forgets the need for dramatic momentum and emotional colour.

She takes a familiar situation and pushes it to extremes. Bernice has spent 25 years looking after Maureen, her chairbound mum, while singer-sister Cath swans around the world. As we see Bernice in the nightly ritual of feeding, cleaning, and coping with mother's verbal and physical incontinence, we realise she has grown a carapace of irony. Envying her sister, present through interpolated songs from a Spanish cabaret, Bernice is both a devoted carer and subversive piss-taker.

Some things Morgan gets absolutely right. As played by the phenomenal June Watson in the performance of the night, Maureen has the strange energy of the domestically confined. She watches over the neighbours like a private eye, shows an encyclopedic knowledge of daytime television, brandishes her Catholicism like a fist, and indulges in endless monologues that suggest a housewives' Joyce. But what Watson essentially captures is the constant patient's mixture of complaint and compassion, as when she suddenly announces "I'm no picnic, am I?"

Dawn French as Bernice reacts to all this with an admirable mix of routine sarcasm and ingrained despair: she is funny precisely because she can make a line like "shall I push your piles back in now?" sound as if it were unexceptional. But, once the situation is established, you wish Morgan would develop it. I thought wistfully of Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane, where a similar relationship leads to murderous violence. I also longed to see other characters such as Father Frank, who remains a shadowy off-stage presence.

Morgan's only way to push the play forward is to have Alison Moyet's Cath finally come home; but what follows is a conventional showdown over their mother's corpse. Familiar points are also made about the way the stay-at-home sister opts in a sense for self-sacrifice. One is left, in Kathy Burke's adroit production, with a strangely mixed evening. Morgan is painfully honest about the way the old and sick can suck the life from their young. At the same time, she overlooks the fact a play needs variety and incident if it is not leave its audience feeling similarly drained.

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