‘Mother and the Monster’ is a feminist investigation into the life of a woman who has been done terrible injustice. Its script offers great capacity for original interpretation. However, this production suffers from a large absence of directorial coordination. It is partly because of this that its talented cast do not shine.
Arabella Spendlove plays Charlotte, a legendary Hollywood props designer who has mostly retired since the 1980s. Spendlove could have been perfect in the role. Her eyes swim with emotion like an undersea world. She moves about nervously when talking, averting her eyes. Her manner doesn’t give much away. She initially seems less remarkable than the unusual personality one might expect. There is a faraway look in her eyes, though, a darting thoughtfulness that suggests mystery, secrets and hidden glory. This contrast evokes a sense that her full self has not been revealed to the outside world. Her vocal delivery, however, is flat. Her movements are stiff. The frustration and sadness built up over years is not expressed well.
The problems that undermine everyone’s characterization are revealed through her interactions with other characters. Eduardo Fahey plays The Monster, who has a relationship with Charlotte that I will keep secret. His vocal technique when he was hidden in the cupboard was impressive and conveyed his desperation well. He also gave The Monster an intimidating physicality which made the audience recognize Charlotte’s vulnerability. On the other hand, his portrayal is at tonal discord from the other characters. He shouted a lot, at the expense of delivery. It was effective at first, but soon became wearisome. It was done with a lot more volume than feeling. He was also doing things intended to be funny in the background, and sliding around on the sofa. This detracted from the raw emotion and confusion Charlotte was feeling.
Isabella Forshaw plays Polly, Charlotte’s cleaner, who is an arts design student. Forshaw is extremely skilled at making her acting look natural. In this show, this is taken too far. Polly is worried about her potentially having fewer career opportunities because she is a woman. Forshaw delivers her lines with very similar facial expressions throughout and says all the lines the same way. Her worry does not feel genuine.
Emily Knutsson plays Lucy, who has come to discover Charlotte’s secrets and write an article about them. She has a wonderfully still unflappability about her. She seems to have all the power. Knutsson gives Lucy a wry smile and a witty delivery. She also has lovely moments of humour, such as when she says gluten poisons the body. She is sometimes unconvincing when acting supportive, but softens beautifully near the end.
Despite everyone’s individually promising ideas, their conversations with Charlotte don’t flow at all. They are emotionally hollow. There is no evidence of an overarching plan of how to approach the piece, or how to weld together the different characters’ intentions and behaviour so that the dialogue feels real.
I know these actors are talented because I’ve seen them in other shows and have been very impressed. It seems that here, they either didn’t click as an ensemble or there wasn’t enough discussion about what everyone’s overarching philosophy of the show was.