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Mother and Child

Kyle Hixon and Carmel Stephens in Mother and Child. Image by Wen Driftwood. *** The title Mother and Child by Norwegian Nobel prize winner Jon Fosse might seem a little disingenuous. Mother and son, as distinct from mother and daughter, would have been far more accurate. But Fosse isn’t interested in literalism. Or realism for that matter. Evident in his wild ride through a mother and son trying to repair their estranged relationship. Its direct referencing of  Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie telling, with both plays leaning into memory and expressionism with just a dash of psychological realism. Yet comparisons with Sartre’s claustrophobic No Exit , or with Absurdist or Post Dramatic theatre might better describe the lens through which Fosse frames the action. Which, in Glass Mask Theatre’s premiere production proves wild, relentless and frenetic. Even, at times, when it might have benefitted had it not been. Swedish director Johan Bark's take on Mother and Child a case of too much, not enough, and just right. Too much is Kyle Hixon’s unnamed son, a walking wound meeting his mother in Oslo after many years apart. She having sent him to live with his Christian fundamentalist Grandparents as a child, and later his father, as she got on with life. To say he has a chip on his shoulder would be like saying Ireland has a little bit of a housing problem. Hixon’s over-invested literature and philosophy student being all chip and no shoulder, the blurb’s silent stoicism nowhere in sight. Like some demented serial killer suffering high blood pressure, Hixon bounds about with an expression suggesting an urge to kill. His emotional intensity on a scale of one to ten registering at seventeen. So high up he has nowhere to climb. Even as Fosse’s script charts a thrust and parry journey towards the significant confrontation with his mother. After which, the balloon deflated, Hixon compels in subtle and assured ways eclipsed by his earlier performative histrionics. A subtlety he'd hinted at in his deft tipping at the suicidal precipice at the end of a thrust stage. Kyle Hixon and Carmel Stephens in Mother and Child. Image by Wen Driftwood. In cranking intensity to overload Bark shows not enough subtlety, nuance or assurance. Auteur aspirations hammering a clunky theatrics over Fosse’s text. Frenetic running, writing on a wall of mirrors, a musical score forcing spiritual references and cartoonish black and white costumes suggestive of supervillains reveal more about Bark’s aesthetic than Fosse’s. The liminal set designed by Bark and the production’s hyperactivity contrasting with the solidness of Fosse’s archetypal relationship. Thankfully Carmel Stephens gets it just right with a terrific performance, forgiving whilst illuminating a multitude of theatrical sins. Stephens’s anti-feminist feminist and non-maternal mother the lynchpin around which everything coheres. Stephens’s climbing beautifully as she gives voice to modern hypocrisies, talks in order not to have to talk, and doesn’t waste an ounce of emotion so she can achieve optimum impact. Devastating as she lashes out, her unpalatable truths delivering whip-like lacerations. Stephens mesmerising as she questions the experience and institution of motherhood . One other aspect that often lands just right is the raw, visceral pain that underscores Fosse’s Mother and Child . Ensuring the experience rises above Bark’s overplaying of intensity via an overworked theatricality. The loss, guilt and jealousy informing Fosse’s script hitting home with powerful directness. Mother and Child clearly a labour of love for Bark. As we all know, love often blinds. Still, in the end, what you remember is the love. Mother and Child by Jon Fosse, translator unknown, runs at Glass Mask Theatre until April 6. For more information visit Glass Mask Theatre

Mother and Child
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