Thursday, 11 January 2018

Theatre review: My Mum's a Twat

First-time playwrights often prove naturals at certain aspects of the job, while others need to be developed over time. One thing Anoushka Warden has clearly got an instinct for is coming up with a title that’ll get people in to see your play in the first place, as evidenced by her debut My Mum’s a Twat. It’s an autobiographical monologue (it’s described as “an unreliable version of a true story filtered through a hazy memory and vivid imagination”) performed by Future Dame Patsy Ferran on a Chloe Lamford set that at first glance looks like a teenage girl’s bedroom (the audience seating includes beanbags as well as more traditional chairs.) In fact it’s more like a scrapbook come to life, the different sections of the walls decorated with pictures of her favourite things – Tupac, David Jason, her dog – and the shelves full of music and films that remind her of her extended family of siblings, half-siblings and step-siblings.

Having a lot of close family becomes important when she’s ten years old and her mother Anna, upset after losing her job, goes to The Heal Thyself Centre for Self-Realisation and Transcendence for counselling. As the name suggests, this isn’t quite the therapy centre she might have hoped for, and sensing weakness a cult has soon indoctrinated Anna and her new husband, known only as Moron.


The cult’s dubious healing and meditation practices taking up more and more rooms in the house, and Christmas with the cult leader deciding whether or not the girl is allowed to open her presents, are bad enough, but soon Anna is told to move to Moron’s native Canada and set up a new centre there. When the narrator objects to moving, and her father sues for custody, her mother and stepfather happily move to Canada without her. It’s the biggest betrayal but Warden’s story is full of smaller, casual ones. Set in her teens during the nineties, the play is often very angry towards this neglect, with much of the anger essentially coming down to her mother’s inability to actually listen to her, in favour of deferring every decision to her leader.


But it’s an anger tempered with sadness, especially at the mother the girl misses from a time before she was a twat. Obviously Ferran is a strong comic actress and she brings a lot of this to the teenage angst of her character, but she also balances this with the pathos of a girl who could really use her mother during her teenage years; as well as a twinkle-eyed enjoyment of the girl’s more rebellious side, her annual visits to Canada marked by drinking, drugs and sex with the new friends she makes there while her mother is distracted by meditation retreats.


My Mum’s a Twat gives a well-balanced account of a story with no resolution – Warden’s mother is still in the cult, which has since branched out to other countries as well – but doesn’t always feel like theatre: Despite the disclaimer about it being a fictionalised version, there’s clearly a lot of truth in the story, and directors Vicky Featherstone and Jude Christian can’t always stop it from feeling like a lecture that Ferran is delivering as the writer’s proxy (this isn’t the kind of monologue that requires her to embody all the other characters in the story, so there’s an element of telling not showing.) It means I was sometimes jolted out of the narrative, but it’s an interesting and disturbing story of how easily someone can be manipulated into giving up all control of their own life, and as ever Ferran is the perfect guide to it.

My Mum’s a Twat by Anoushka Warden is booking until the 20th of January at the Royal Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes straight through.

Photo credit: Helen Murray.

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