She Called Me Mother
London, Bernie Grant Arts Centre
The sound of the gospel anthem This Little Light Of Mine rings out over the stage and you can cut the tension with a knife. In a cruelly ironic twist, one of the great songs of hope, a chorus that is all about the certainty of a better day, is, in the mouths of a Trinidadian mother Evangeline [Cathy Tyson] and her estranged British daughter Shirley [Chereen Buckley], a lament for lost years, a ballad for the darkness that has blocked out the light. Abuse at the hands of the men in their lives has forced them apart, and now as Evangeline sits on the concourse of London Bridge station selling magazines to scrape by, Shirley comes back into view. Old wounds are reopened in the midst of a psychological and emotional post-mortem of two shattered lives.
Although it could benefit from some precise edits, particularly in the overlong prologue, Michelle Inniss’ text has vivid characterization at its core, enabling Tyson and Buckley to show their full acting range, as the emotional pitch of the story rises like the heat in a kitchen where food is not the only thing that will be cooked. Cara Nolan’s taut direction negotiates the twists and turns well, though some of the movement and lighting would have better underlined the dramatic charge had they not been so stark. Having said that, the production convincingly handles the strong themes explored by the work, above all the inherently problematic business of leaving home, whether it is the ‘island’ or the big city, the all-consuming nature of religion in the Caribbean and the damaging expectations of both manhood and womanhood. Shirley’s presence at the station may not be real, after all. We may just be privy to Evangeline’s state of mind. But what she is going through is no less vivid, partly due to the chemistry between Tyson, a seasoned award-winner and Buckley, a promising newcomer.
Kevin Le Gendre
Until January 28. Box Office: 0208 365 54550