Polly’s Teale’s poignant drama Mine is very much a play for today: not least because of its exploration of the pressures of modern motherhood, and its emphasis on middleclass guilt. It shows the breakdown of relationships in a society so preoccupied by smart phones and emails, that characters often do not listen to each other, moving on to the next phone call or text in quick succession, avoiding real contact. The director, Harriet Astbury said that in her production, she wanted to ‘create the mess that is our everyday lives. We live at once in so many different realities; what, from when we were small, we had always imagined our lives to be like, to what we hope it might turn out to be, to what we fear it is’. The simple sophistication of the set which depicts their home serves as a perfect contrast for their break down; a single window suspended from the ceiling, a dining room table, and a doll’s house. Woman (Jenna Noronha), and her partner Man (Jack Murphy), appear to be living the dream; she, working as a popular television presenter and he as an architect respectively, live in a gorgeous house (with a pool and a gate code no less), and hold dinner parties for millionaire clients. But they feel they are lacking one thing- a child. From the first scene, we are thrown in the middle of the action, beginning when Man tells Woman that the social services have given them chance to foster a three week old baby, who has been removed from her mother Rose (Frankie Budd), who is a sex-worker and drug addict. If all goes well, they will adopt the baby.
But this joyful moment, the one they’ve been waiting for for years, is tainted from the moment it begins. When Man is trying to tell Woman this news, she is simultaneously talking on the phone, and isn’t listening to him. These cracks in their façade of perfection steadily widen, throughout the piece, the couple communicate with each other between telephone conversations with other people, and talk at cross purposes. They can barely make eye contact, and their lack of real intimacy is brought to the fore- they are both losing control over a situation that was ostensibly their dream. Woman, despite her high flying career, is floundering, trapped in a prison of expectation- the compulsion to be a perfect mother. Jenna Noronha is likeable as Woman, and captures her vulnerability- we really feel for her situation, even in her moments of deepest self-obsession. There’s one superbly delivered scene where she describes waking up to the baby screaming one night and she just starts shouting back, like a child. There could have been more done to emphasise the wealth of the two characters- they were wearing quite ordinary clothes which didn’t really capture the sophistication and affluence that their speech kept referring too- ‘the cashmere jumper and fuck off rolexes’ weren’t on display- something particularly emphasised by how smartly dressed their social worker was in comparison.
Any assumptions we might have had about their potential superiority as parents are further collapsed when we finally meet Rose, the birth mother played beautifully by Frankie Budd. Understandably spikey and upset, the tenderness Rose shows towards her daughter feels incredibly real; even though the child is represented by a plastic baby, you stop noticing; it almost comes to life with Budd’s convincing affection. Budd’s adoring description about her baby’s ‘weird toes’ and ‘hairy back’ is heart-breaking; you feel your judgement turned inwards. We are left questioning if the baby could have had an equally happy life, if she had lived with her birth mother, and what exactly makes a ‘good’ mum or dad. This play articulates frustrations at a system that chooses to take these children away, rather than help their birth parents cope better. Woman has conflicting feelings about the baby, for all her love and care of it, she realises she lacks the maternal intuition that Rose clearly has- Rose who during her abused childhood was forced to care for her siblings. We see a devastating insight into Woman’s past, when we see her interactions with her own mother (played by Megan Burnside), who also struggled with her children, and see how past abuse, emotional or physical, gone unchecked can spawn other abuse through the generations. With the majority of characters not given traditional names- referred to as ‘Woman’ or ‘Sister’- the characters act as a symbol for any person struggling with parenthood.
The strength of this production lies in some excellent acting, and in its stress on a need for a less judgemental society, and one that is active and listening, with its phone on silent, and its preconceptions reserved. At an hour and a half long, this production is only a snapshot into feelings of societal pressure and inadequacy as a parent, but it’s a beautifully crafted one, and contains some truly touching moments.
Mine will be performed in the Michael Pilch studio from the 25th-28th May, tickets are available here.