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Shallow Slumber

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Chris Lee's Shallow Slumber focuses on the relationship between a young mother and her social worker and the devastation wrought on both their lives at one terrible moment. Told in reverse chronological order, Moira starts the piece introverted, hiding from the world. Dawn, the mother who turns up on her doorstep after many years of no contact between them, is desperate for help to restore her shattered self-worth.

As Moira, Alexandra Gilbreath portrays the distinction between the different phases of the woman's life rather more successfully than Amy Cudden as Dawn. Gilbreath convinces as the young, naive idealist, determined to help but eventually not only failing to make a difference but destroying her own life in the process. And as the older woman, she totally embraces the care-worn character. Cudden's Dawn is resigned to her fate of tabloid-story single mum and never steps outside of that stereotype, despite Moira's support. Both actors use the limited space well, with a sparse set by Georgia Lowe suggesting the two women's homes and Christopher Nairne's lighting adding to the intense atmosphere.

There are some holes in the storytelling. Early on, Moira says that her friendship with Dawn overstepped the boundaries of professionalism and that was their undoing. But where is this close friendship? Only a "friendly professional" connection is then shown, with Moira constantly reiterating the processes which her role as social worker demands. Nor is it clear why Moira feels that Dawn ruined her life, or why she doesn't take responsibility for her own failure.

More successful is the exploration of the theme of parental love and how much damage parents can do to their children without losing their love. All three - Moira, Dawn and the unseen Amy - have suffered but still love the parents who hurt them. The final horrific denouement by Dawn is a heart-breaking scene, but after so many similar stories in the media, not surprising. So despite the emotional storyline, it's a shame that the trope of the backwards narrative leads to an ending that is fairly obvious from early on. But maybe that's the point - people live up to the stereotypes they are saddled with and Shallow Slumber's ending has a sad inevitability.

- Carole Gordon


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