Unusually for a single performer based show, director Chris Sudworth creates a natural atmosphere in which Mary does not deliver her speeches direct to the audience as a monologue but rather to herself whilst performing basic tasks like applying make-up. The effect is to give the impression of a tormented internal dialogue.
Ridings delivers a good performance and conveys Mary’s conflict well. Condemned to a life of self-sacrifice because of her devotion to a mother who is unable to reciprocate her love she still cannot bring herself to follow in her mother’s footsteps into the tribute business.
The disappointment experienced by both women is very clear, as is their inability to like themselves. Ridings has a good voice but does not enirely convince you that she is the amateur singer that she is portraying.
Ridings’ success as an actor is not matched by her skill as a writer. It is difficult to care about Mary or her mother as we know so little about them. We are told that Mary was unpopular at school because of her illegitimacy but find out nothing more about her life until she takes on the role of nurse for her ailing mother.
Although she resists pressure to become a performer, no information is given about how Mary achieves fulfilment either professionally or spiritually. The origins of the self-destructive behaviour of Mary’s mother are explained superficially by suggesting that she was frustrated by her inability to develop into an original, rather than tribute, act. This seems strange as Dusty Springfield herself was an interpreter (albeit one of the most powerful and moving) of other peoples songs, as opposed to her own.
The tone of the play is depressing - very defeatist, instead of movingly bleak. Mary comes across as dully submissive – acceding to every whim of her mother and never really growing as a character throughout the play. The potentially interesting theme of two people willingly allowing their own identities to be absorbed by a more dominant person (an over-needy mother or idealised role model) is simply ignored.
Even the conclusion does not give much hope for the future. As Mary could not challenge or defy her mother but rather has to wait in limbo for her to pass on it seems unlikely that she will ever develop a more assertive personality.
I have a great deal of sympathy for the challenges faced by producers of fringe drama but feelt a bit cheated by the short duration of the drama. It actually took me longer to travel to the theatre than the running time of the actual play.
If Me, Mum And Dusty Springfield were longer, it might be more impressive, but as it is, it lacks the depth required to move you.
- Dave Cunningham