Florian Zeller is fast turning into the new Yasmina Reza: a writer acclaimed in Paris, making a big splash in London with plays translated by Christopher Hampton — but at least on the reckoning of his first two plays to come here, he cuts rather deeper into human frailties and does so with more formal theatrical daring, too, though they share a penchant for the shorter theatrical evening. (Like Reza's Art, Zeller's artful The Mother runs for less than 90 interval-free minutes).
But Zeller crams a lot into those minutes: after The Father, his intensely moving study of an elderly man slipping into dementia, The Mother now brings us a deeply painful portrait of a middle-aged woman who finds, as she approaches 50, that her empty-nest has left her very empty — and as she reproachfully blames her husband (who may or may not be bound for a seminar in Leicester), she may soon become lonelier still.
As in The Father, Zeller plays loose and slippery with time and reality: what's taking place in her mind and what's actually happening? The same scenes are repeated, with minor variations; it is like an expanded version of Nick Payne's dazzling Constellations, which also offered contrasting versions of how a simple conversation might go.
Here the stakes — and mistakes — are high. It's as if her very life depends on it; and without saying more, it really does. The play is infected with a haunting sense of approaching dread. Gina McKee captures perfectly the flickering desperation of a life that is being derailed in front of our eyes, just as The Father caught a mind unravelling in the same way. McKee is extraordinary — her nerves feel not just frayed but directly exposed by her insecurities.
As the two men in her life — her workaholic husband and 23-year-old son who is infatuated by the woman he is dating but has just walked out from— Richard Clothier and William Postlethwaite are no less marvellous, pulling away from her desperate neediness, and drawn towards other women themselves (both played by Frances McNamee).
Laurence Boswell's unmissable production, which originated at Bath's Ustinov Theatre, could well follow The Father to the West End (where it is about to have its second run there) from the Tricycle. In March Zeller brings a third play to London when The Truth opens at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
What the popular press had to say...
"Even if the play is overshadowed by its successor, it offers a poignant, deeply Freudian study of a mind on the edge of breakdown."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Though the results aren’t as clever or moving as The Father, this is still a profoundly disorientating experience — mischievous, funny, sad and wise."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
External links to full reviews from popular press