Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Review: 'Mother Must Die?!' at The Pleasance, 22nd October 2019

Reviewed by David James
Rating: 4 Stars

Theatre is populated by playwrights and directors eager to deliver their big statement on the world's woes. Some hit the mark; many fall short. Against that backdrop it's nice to see shows like Fantastic Garlands' Mother Must Die?!, a silly horror farce whose ambition is to entertain for 45 minutes and then skedaddle. It succeeds.

Olivia Thompson and Libby Rodcliffe are Jocasta and Jupiter, twins living a miserable and sheltered existence in a Grey Gardens style dilapidated mansion. We meet them as they're following an oddly precise set of instructions on how to set up the room for their elderly mother's birthday. Neither is particularly happy about the situation: previous birthdays have somehow left Jocasta with one eye and Jupiter without the use of her right arm. 

But this year things are going to be different. This year... Mother Must Die?!

Jocasta and Jupiter are determined to bump her off, end their seclusion and join the real world. And really, how hard can it be to shuffle an old and frail woman off the mortal coil? You might be surprised.

Written in collaboration by the company, this is a fast-moving and pleasantly grotesque way to spend the best part of an hour. I loved how enjoyably off-kilter everything feels. Both women are locked into a very odd arrested development, with Jupiter dressing up as a Brownie to try and join in with a troupe and Jocasta engaged in an unrequited love affair with a terrible poet. They dress like children who've broken into their mother's wardrobe while casually discuss murder and various dark goings-on in the recent family history. 

Thompson and Rodcliffe play this as a classic double-act, with Jocasta as the straight man and Jupiter as her comic foil. Both women are in perfect sync on stage and elevate the already funny script beyond what's on the page. 

The show also provides a nice sense of place. The decaying mansion is mostly left to the imagination, but there's a lot of subtle exposition as to how it looks. For example, it appears to be gradually collapsing into the sea as the cliff beneath crumbles - with the women peering nervously over the cliff edge during the show.

Plus, while I don't want to spoil anything, there's a neat twist at the end.

I wish I could see more plays like Mother Must Die?! Brevity is a quality all-too-rarely found in theatre, and this story gets in, achieves its goal and gets out while the audience is still laughing. Admirable stuff.

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