Tender Mercies- Bread & Roses Theatre, London

Reviewer: Issy Flower

Writer: Collette Cullen

Director: Catriona Clancy

Playing as part of the Clapham Fringe, Tender Mercies aims to deal with issues of mental health, state care, familial tensions and substance abuse, but fails at almost every turn. Despite occasional flashes of quality, it’s a sadly underdeveloped and under-rehearsed piece.

We meet Mary Fortune (Wendy Fisher) when she has already died: found by her twin brother in the flat he co-owned, her life having spiralled out of control due to her mental health issues. Fisher’s Fortune then takes us through her life from, as the website copy would have it, ‘womb to tomb’, but in a way that doesn’t really make sense. Intercut with flashes of her interactions with her salon’s customers, this device at first works and is enjoyably witty, but soon emphasises the uneven tone and structure of the script. Multiple story threads are shown but never really developed—such as her feelings about her brother or husband—or left without conclusion, as in Mary’s fractured relationship with her mother. Instead the story seems to run as a narrative without cause, the important themes of state neglect and abusive families only gaining prominence in the final few minutes. This means that even when Cullen’s script shines—the black humour, though repetitive, is funny—it seems to be for no purpose, and certainly not for that suggested in the programme.

The script is matched blow for unfortunate blow by Fisher’s performance, which like the text starts off strong but is quickly unmoored. Fisher seems nervous on stage, not helped by frequently having to resort to a prompter, which stops the already poorly paced show in its tracks. What is even more frustrating is that when Fisher goes for it, she has genuine quality as an actor—a stab of dark humour here, a tender moment of vulnerability there, which sometimes go a long way to sell the script and she manages to keep us onside throughout. Unfortunately, being onside is not enough to override the flaws in the production, and neither is the use of ABBA.

Tender Mercies is an unfocused play re-treading old ground with little new to say. The audience is left with much to think about, but rather than this being the importance of the themes or the ultimate tragedy of Mary’s story, it is with the knowledge of the production’s wasted potential.

Runs until 2 October 2022

The Reviews Hub Score

Flashes of promise make this a frustrating watch

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The Reviews Hub - London

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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