Mother & Son (Queensland Theatre Company, Joint Ventures, Lascorp Entertainment & Fractured Limb production)
QPAC, The Playhouse
February 21 – March 15
A sitcom is an extended conversation between writer, director, actors and the audience. If successful, it can go on for years and as QTC’s “Mother & Son” shows, it can transcend medium and context changes. Based on the classic TV series of the same name which ran from 1984 to 1994, the theatrical production successfully captures its original themes and charms, but also incorporates a new, 21st Century view on the trials and tribulations of long-suffering, middle-aged second son Arthur Beare and his overbearing, absent-minded mother Maggie.
The characters of this “Mother & Son” live in a 2014 world of mobile phones and overseas call centres, which allows for a number of new plot scenarios that elevate the material well beyond a simple of remake of the ABC TV classic. Although it still has the feel of a sitcom, taking the iconic Australian comedy from screen to stage, allows exploration of characters in a way not possible on television, with, for example, Arthur being given a girlfriend, Anita (Rachael Beck), which allows him some sympathy on stage.
Essentially though, as a family comedy, “Mother & Son” is a show of dysfunctional relationships and emotional sabotage as Arthur attempts to balance his life and his obligations as primary carer to his forgetful mother Maggie, who appears to only have eyes for her philandering son Robert (he’s a dentist you know, albeit a disgraced one). And the show’s naturalistic suburban set certainly suits what is essentially an intimate story.
Veteran Australian actress Noeline Brown is simply wonderful as the spirited Maggie and from the moment the show opens with her atop a ladder in attempt to change a light bulb herself, she easily wins the audience’s hearts. She is, all things considered, perhaps a lot more likeable than the exasperatingly wicked Maggie of Ruth Cracknell’s making. Indeed, Maggie’s character in this play is portrayed more sympathetically than in the television series. But this is part of what makes “Mother & Son” such an appealing, light-hearted show. Rob Carlton makes for an appropriately smarmy favourite son, Robert; sleezy, selfish and entirely self-centred, he is a product of his own success, as much as Maggie’s one-eyed praise, full of smooth talk as tries not to be caught by his wife Liz (Nicki Wendt) for his cheating ways and Wendt certainly offers some great comic moments as his glamorous, feisty wife. Darren Gilshenan, in the role Garry McDonald made famous, holds the show together with a solid performance as the put-upon Arthur.
In addition to its performances, the show is enhanced by its fresh script full of sharp dialogue. Original series creator Geoffrey Atherden has penned the story exclusively for the stage. In updating its realisation of the central mother/son premise, Atherden has included some clever tricks, such as the insertion of Skype communication between Maggie and her grandchildren, seen by the audience on a big screen. Not only does this help progress the story, but it adds some tremendous comedy.
“Mother & Son” is a charming, comfort comedy, rarely seen in these days of cutting edge, challenging theatrical themes. Although it provides many laughs, it is clear that at its core, this is a story of immense heart and its ultimate message is one of positivity, making it a pure pleasure to watch.