Shirley Jones lives a squalid life. Good looking, if not too bright, Shirley has no trouble attracting boyfriends including the man who fathers her child, Jordan. For the first time Shirley thinks of someone other than herself as Jordan brings out a savage maternal instinct. So why did she kill her own child?
Sian Weedon gives an unflinching performance as Shirley making no effort to disguise her unsympathetic aspects or those of any of the other characters she enacts including the reptilian father. Weedon shows Shirley to be stunned by feeling gentle emotions for the first time in her shallow life but also completely out of her depth in coping with the realities of the world.
Co-authors Anna Reynolds and Moria Buffini are capable of evocative descriptions. Shirley’s relationship with her son is described in primal terms of warmth and scent. However, possibly because the play is based on a true incident, they seem reluctant to manipulate the details for dramatic effect.
They go beyond explaining what most people will find hard to comprehend – how a mother could commit infanticide- and describe Shirley’s life with her abusive partner and later in gaol. The play becomes a biography of someone who it is really hard to like. For once the justice and care systems seem to have worked appropriately so there is no sense of institutional injustice. The play becomes a litany of one misfortune after another with less and less emotional impact. Finally, instead of being overwhelmed by the horror of the situation or moved by a life wasted, you just feel numb - which cannot have been the objective.
Director Gordon Hamlin delivers a fast-moving production that avoids the static feeling of a show with just one actor. But he allows the play to extend past the emotional point where it would have been logical to bring it to a close.
- Dave Cunningham