Note: The following review dates from March 2003 and this production's West End season. Casting details have changed. Please check performance listings.
In one of the early sequences of Mum's the Word - newly arrived and starrily cast in the West End - Patsy Palmer recalls how she once sneered at and resisted "the giant club" of motherhood. That, of course, was before she had a baby herself and became a happy and active member.
Those of us in the audience who have not paid our dues to said club - and I count myself amongst the non-parent party - can't help but feel excluded, and after a time, exasperated by the relentless maternal prattle. In fact, for a large portion of the evening and despite my X chromosomes, I found myself relating most to one of the play's absent husbands, my "brain racing for escape to something more interesting".
To give it its due, Mum's the Word does have its moments, both of levity and pathos, and I did discover a new-found admiration for mothers of young children, though not much sympathy specifically for the six on the stage. Given that the authors of the play, first seen in Canada in 1993, were actresses themselves, you'd think they'd have a pretty good feel for character development.
If so, it's not on evidence here in the series of intersecting monologues - ceaseless anecdotes, throwaway lines and a few longer (and sometimes awkward and inexplicable - mongoloid children from the First World War?) set pieces. The only mum who embarks on any real narrative journey is Imogen Stubbs, dishevelled and disorganised in dungarees, who tops and tails the play with an amusingly energetic birth and notes her progress in between with a series of letters to her disinterested partner.
The other British actresses acquit themselves fairly well despite the thin script, Wayne Harrison's group therapy direction and Judy Reaves' pastel cardboard set, with special praise reserved for Jenny Eclair, a fantastic comedienne who lifts her lines from their doldrums. They're joined by Barbara Pollard, one of the show's creators, whose too earnest pitch exposes some of the weakest lines in all their mawkishness.
There's no shortage of knowing titters and frequent guffaws from the many mothers and grandmothers in the audience. Fair enough. I'm happy for them to have a play that shines the spotlight on the world of their "giant club" and, because of them, I’ll go so far as to allow a three-star review rating. Nevertheless, it's all a bit too laboured – and, frankly, two-star - for this non-member.
- Terri Paddock
Note: The following review dates from September 2002 and this production's earlier UK tour. Casting details have changed.
Mum's the Word is a series of monologues based around the trials and tribulations of being a parent. The audience is taken on a familiar journey through nappy changing, food fights, toy strewn bedroom floors and tantrums. The novelty of the quick fire humour keeps the audience entertained during a fast and very funny first half.
But after a while the tales of tiny tots start to wear a bit thin. The humour veers between Victoria Wood style anecdotes to end of the pier entertainment. Each winning line in the script is followed up by a crass or crude joke leaving a sour taste in your mouth. The biggest laugh from the audience occurs when an overweight naked mum runs across the stage. When this happens again for another milked laugh, the audience starts to look jaded.
The six women are sketchily written and although well played it is difficult to identify with their plights. Each of them tell the same stories without any sense of development. You get the feeling the play could have moved faster if there were a 'jittery mum', an 'eager mum' or even a 'frightened mum’ to draw the audience in. Instead you are left with thinly written characters more suited to stand up comedy.
Beverley Callard as Deborah delivers her lines with a sense of urgency and real comic timing. The other 5 actresses acquit themselves well but face an uphill struggle as they are required to come full circle time and time again. It's as if the writers Linda A Carson, Alison Kelly, Robin Nichol, Barbara Pollard and Deborah Williams literally press repeat when in doubt.
Wayne Harrison's direction does not allow the performers to shine. Some of the scenes go on for far too long and could have done with some urgent trimming. When the poignant scenes arrive they do not sit well alongside the constant barrage of baby jokes as there is no balance between laughter and tears.
Ultimately what begins as a “nudge nudge .. that’s me” play becomes very laboured after about an hour.
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at the Manchester Opera House)