In The Motherhood – mac, Birmingham

Writer: Hayley Pepler

Director: Tom Saunders

Reviewer:  John Kennedy

The universality of perfect motherhood as a primal, nurturing absolute is frothily deconstructed in this wry, aridly dry, newly-penned observational satire by playwright Hayley Pepler. But is something much more sinister being nurtured here? Might the overbearing chic Bonnie (Sarah Horner) bottle-blonde and alabaster, the chalk to Nita’s (Louise Mardenborough) nits and fleas, be the Home Counties version of The Stepford Wives?

Pepler’s vivacious comedy of recognition/tragedy of neglect draws us into her microcosm of aspirational village PTA committee femme-banal  – or so our salt and pepper manipulative antagonists delude themselves not to be. Mission driven fund-raisers, our archetypal competitive mothers dispense conditional altruism according to a strict pecking order. All seems perfectly prim and proper in the best of all possible worlds for the politically correct Bonnie and Nita.  That is until outsider Jacs (Lauren Crace) arrives to muddy their sommelier-crafted Aqua Deco designer waters of smugness. Time for the Masonic Motherhood to circle the wagons – but has their Calvary arrived in the character of Jacs? She is keen to join the PTA but Bonnie and Nita’s criteria for election are as demanding as they are esoteric. Thus unfolds an effervescent fifty-five minutes of manipulations and tantrums that stamp across the angst-strewn minefield of impossible motherhood expectations. Call it a mothers’ coming of rage, a rally cry to fellow sisters to shake off the shackles of judgmental servitude and surrender of identity. Don’t corral us in the collective noun of Mums! We have our own names.

Pepler wisely eschews the predictable clichéd kitchen knife-to-grind message. The denouement reveal that climaxes in the giddily hilarious mock interview/interrogation to assess Jacs’ suitability to join the PTA committee is crisply, even creepily satisfyingly. However, this bittersweet, but at times perhaps rather too comfortably reassuring, focused slice of contemporary life suggests moments of near twee self-congratulation. Contemporaneous in as much as a white, middle-class covertly selective village primary school can be. Fast paced, convincingly portrayed, together with director Tom Saunders’ use of nursery rhyme/playground chimed school-term transitions that frame the narrative with precision and energy, this is an engaging, pertinent and thoroughly entertaining production. Radios 4/X commissioning editors take note.

Reviewed on 6 February 2017 and on tour | Image: Geoff Broadway

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