Who is best placed to bring up a child? Is it the natural mother – an addict and prostitute; or a talented, affluent middle-class career woman?That is the provocative question Polly Teale sets herself in Mine, described by Teale as her most personal play to date.
Teale is a remarkable artist, an acclaimed writer, director and with Nancy Meckler, co-artistic director of Shared Experience. Together and individually, they have won many awards - After Mrs Rochester, Jane Eyre (Teale), War and Peace and Mill on the Floss (Teale and Meckler) to name but a few.
Mine however is a departure, a break from Teale’s normal run of adaptations of classics, although she did write the quite shocking, Fallen, interestingly enough, another account of compulsive behaviour. Mine centres around an affluent young couple – he an architect, she unspecified, but something artistic in advertising. Theirs is a perfect world – except for one thing, a child.
Enter the possibility of a baby, a referral from Rose (Lorraine Stanley), a mother whose new baby is about to be taken away from her. And thus begins a collision – between needs, nurturing, natural birth mothers, adoption and much more besides.
Being Teale and a Shared Experience production, the hidden worlds of guilt, fear, and damned up anger find their physical equivalents as graphically as any spoken word. A child (Sophie Stone) crouches by a doll’s house – a symbol of both the middle-class mother’s imprisoning past and her fears for the new baby she is about to take on.
Contrasting pastoral and urban video images (Thomas Gray for the Gray Circle) flash across the back wall. A nervy undercurrent of desperation pervades, not least in the performance of Katy Stephens as the adopting mother – a woman steadily awakening to the realisation that her life has been one of terrible over-protection. `I know nothing’, she screams at one point.
In the honourable tradition of late 1980s feminist plays where the female central character goes on a journey of self-discovery, Mine is also reminiscent of Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle only in reversal. This time, Teale suggests, it is the natural mother, despite everything, who should be in charge of her own baby.
Very much a play for today, and a highly visceral one at that, especially for any woman in the audience - no wonder Alistair Petrie’s husband cries out towards the end, `I can’t do this anymore’. Teale tends towards the overheated, but in the process asks uncomfortably pertinent questions about mothering, class, and the whole premise of perfection that so dominates our society. Needless to say, it’s also another fine example of Shared Experience ensemble at its most economical yet concrete.