Forgiving (My Mother) – The Glitch, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Devisers: Anna Udras, Emilia Nurmukhamet, Pat Dynowska

Director: Anna Udras

Sisters Anna and Lisa are in the middle of an argument about their domineering and abusive mother. Anna left home to get away from her, but Lisa is still at the family home, and whether these different circumstances lead them to differing opinions is at the crux of their play.

Except what we, as an audience, are party to is not Anna and Lisa’s argument, at least not directly. Instead, we are witnessing actors Emilia Nurmukhamet and Pat Dynowska work through, rehearse and amend a script provided by their director, Anna – who tries not to be drawn into any suggestion that her characters are based on herself and her own sister.

Through this mechanism of supposedly watching a rehearsal, the actors and director directly question aspects of their characters, from their motivations to their age, and choose to accept lines as written or reject and amend them. The trio also discuss their reasons for putting on a play, attempting to create a checklist for “meaningful theatre” that doesn’t sound like a series of tick boxes on an Arts Council application.

This meta-narrative explores two complex characters (and their unseen matriarch) in depths that could otherwise be barely scratched in an hour of two actors sitting on stools in a tiny pub cellar. It also allows for some flexibility: on more than one occasion, one or other actor must ask their director for a prompt in what is supposed to be the “real” actors discussing the play they are rehearsing. In a normal play, this would be awkward; here, it merely adds blurring of the lines between what is real and what is intentional.

But the relationship of the characters “Anna” and “Lisa” to their mother is supposed to be the crux. The difficulty here is that the company wants this scenario to be less an exploration of a dysfunctional family and more an introduction to the philosophical theory of determinism.

This theory posits that many of what we think of as choices have outcomes that are already dictated by previous events. Taken to extremes, it can be used to argue against any concept of free will – but it also suggests that if we want the future to change, what we do in the present matters. That concept is discussed a little between the sisters, both in Anna asking Lise to consider what could have happened to their mother to take her from an innocent girl into the monster they now know, and how Lise can take steps to stop the same transformation from happening to her.

Unfortunately, the sisters’ dialogue frequently falls into derivative psychobabble, as if the characters are written through the prism of someone writing them after years of therapy. Such dialogue removes the sense of a foundation for the audience to believe in; rather than considering the application of philosophical theories to understand and empathise with a warring family, they become thin archetypes in a weak, half-finished thought experiment instead.

Still, being in the company of Nurmukhamet and Dynowska is pleasurable enough, and the company’s ability to work on multiple levels brings enough joy to proceedings to overcome the dryness of their chosen material.

On several occasions, the actors acknowledge that a play about determinism is unlikely to expand, or even change, anyone’s mind. They also accept that most of the small audience will be there as friends of the cast and director, from a sense of obligation. One is left to imagine what shape the play may take should the trio decide to aim it instead at a more general audience.

Continues until 24 January 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Dryly philosophical

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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