Writer: Felicite du Jeu
Director: Gemma Kerr
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Motherhood brings with it many skills, a need to nurture, to support and particularly the selfless desire for your child’s life to be better than your own. But, it can also reveal some less pleasant aspects of personality, which Felicite du Jeu’s new play Spiked explores, as three very different London mothers are trapped together and forced to confront their prejudices.
Set principally in a hospital waiting room shortly after a class of 15-year olds are admitted, well-to-do Joanna, single mother Karen and British-Kurdish Rozhin cannot find out what’s happened to their children. As information about the incident is drip-fed to them, their social differences come between them, blaming each other’s parenting skills for the incident. But as we learn more about them as mothers, their similarities start to emerge.
du Jeu’s play begins well, and the rising tension of the long wait with no news slowly builds, providing plenty of dramatic opportunities for the contrasting central characters to find a solidarity in their fears and speculations. Fairly quickly, the audience is shown the class and cultural differences between the three women, and while the prissy Joanna is prone to catastrophise herself into panic attacks, down-to-earth Karen and compassionate Rozhin display their sense and intelligence.
What follows is less self-assured however both dramatically and structurally Spiked presents a slightly cliched descent into bigotry as the conversation focuses on Karen’s single status and Rozhin’s non-European status to explain their children’s behaviour. While, it’s clear that du Jeu intends to mock that approach, the outcomes of the play don’t challenge the stereotype but actually, reinforce it.
Spiked also mixes the waiting room scenario with scenes between the mothers and their children – with only a tangential relevance to the class poisoning story – as well as one monologue section where each parent addresses the audience directly to explain more about their approach. Rather than spreading these out through the piece which would have created more variety, de Jeu arranges them in blocks, so we see all three home life scenes together, and, with six characters being played by just three actors, this slows down the transitions and rather saps the drama from the central story.
It makes Spiked feel quite heavy-handed, mixing preachy and didactic messages with stilted and, at times unconvincing, dialogue. Rozhin, discussing her move to the UK says of her son “I don’t want his life to be driven by fear… I came here to survive”, while Karen remarks on her daughter’s birthday with the comment “15 years old today and trapped in the pain of being”. de Jeu struggles to find the balance between a celebration of all forms of motherhood and credible drama, particularly in the section with the children who are sketchily drawn as generic moody teenagers, meaning the show begins to unravel once the tension of the hospital section has been unsurprisingly resolved.
The performances are pretty good, so Charlotte Asprey in the duel role of Joanna and Polly (Karen’s daughter), Daniella Dess as Karen and Hemin (Rozhin’s son) and Katie Clark as Rozhin and Jemima (Joanna’s daughter) make the most of their motherly roles, drawing out the vast differences in status and attitude between the three women, while making the children reasonably distinct despite being little more than architypes. But the actors are holding back too much during the confrontation scenes, and the sense of frustration between them could be more powerfully explored.
As a musing on motherhood, Spiked wants us to think about the wide-ranging approaches, emotions and desires that having children elicits, reinforced by some real interview answers played over the show’s final moments as parents wish for their child’s happiness and success. But reordering the structure to prolonging the tension of the central narrative, as well as reconsidering the over-simplification of its class-based conclusions, could help Spiked to challenge preconceptions about individual styles of motherhood and its effect on the children.
Runs until 28 April 2018 | Image: Félicité du Jeu