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Brighton Fringe 2019

Low Down

Sweetwerks 1 is a small space perfectly made for chamber theatre. Tom Kibbe directs and the Sweetwerks team and himself provide technical support, clean unfussy lighting. Till May 5th.



That time Shakespeare took the ferry over to Cork? When writer Mark Evans got Pauline O’Driscoll to act his astonishingly powerful drama in reverse of a Syrian mother, she asked him to write another, more ostensibly comic piece.


This being O’Driscoll on her own Cork yard naturally she made contributions. The Seven Ages of Mam is naturally far more than the spin of Jaques’ famous soliloquy, helpfully printed on the back of the programme in case you’d like to reference it. Evans and O’Driscoll produce a wondrously inventive, light-seeming yet plangent exploration of motherhood, grief, lust heartbreak and flickers of joy going into – what?


Sweetwerks 1 is a small space perfectly made for chamber theatre, and the few props, table with powder and flour, in bags and on the table, a chair, and a ladder gong nowhere just for show (the kids’ room) are all O’Driscoll needs to hang the tale. Tom Kibbe directs and the Sweetwerks team and himself provide technical support, clean unfussy lighting.


O’Driscoll can call down the angels in a light high tessitura – a whisper away from silence, and she can on occasion roar like a banshee. O’Driscoll’s shaping authority is clearly stamped on this work, and the operatic scenas and divigations from Evans’ extremely deft storyline are compelling additions.


Just to reprise. Mewling and puking (Moon) boy with satchel like snail to school (Mercury) are referenced not as Mam’s journey but her children’s. It then sashays back to her own life in her extra-martial a poems to her eyebrows (yes, that trope) from the insurance man. Then her absent husband returns from the Lebanon with a long beard and (yes bearded like the Pard) from war (Mars, you see) though the conflict’s a bit obscure. Lebanon. Peace keeping? He apologizes for leaving her to have an affair.


Jupiter’s the round-bellied ‘wise saws and modern instances’ of meeting her grown up daughter and sapping confidences like her daughter’s pregnancy. Saturn, well that’s her shrunk father with the razor mind, and then trans-Saturnian not known then, well sans teeth the blank as we voyage… well to Pluto if her son has anything to do with it (he adopts Pluto as it’s small and tagging then rejects it when it’s downgraded and adopts his dad’s Mars instead).


That’s a bare spine. There’s also the sheer narrative force of a boy and girl and … a surprise and the heartbreak of that surprise. There’s the strange feel of being pushed to the side of your own life. There’s the language, quiet at first then screaming within a contained arc, of the particular terrors of being torn apart giving birth then worrying about your children ever after. After all there’s comfort in screaming at a full upstairs to hurry on down for supper.


What O’Driscoll is master of is pause and sudden tangent. The surprise monologue, the hilariously detailed aside, the squirm of embarrassment, and the language of love and forgiveness and letting go. What O’Driscoll brings even more than the humour is the sudden abiding grief. And what she gets more than grief is life-affirming humour, and what she gets most is utter exhaustion…. No, she’s of a piece. This is consummately acted, wholly believable, the most original riff on the Seven Ages I’ve seen, and so beautifully subsumed you might not notice it at all. Kibbe’s direction is subtle, unfussy and allows above all O’Driscol time to breathe her narrative. The silences, though not Beckett, are crucial.


In short, see it, because it’s on for a very short run! It helps that 13.10 is a good lunchtime to watch a Mam’s legend in.