Selma Dimitrijevic’s short play opens with a mother and daughter facing one another, and ends the same way. In between, it candidly explores this maternal relationship by using a repeated conversation that shifts and changes over the course of the 40 minute run time: simple remarks become threats, the daughter’s shared anecdotes become barbed questions from her mother, neither woman quite laying herself bare. To me, the play read as a realistic depiction of the relationship between a narcissistic parent and their long-suffering, resigned child. It starkly presented the routines of conversations where mother will always come around to cause pain, no matter what the daughter does. Well-directed by Cesca Echlin, these conversations ring with a naturalistic truth of human relationships that doesn’t attempt to hit you in the face, but simply opens it up to view.
The play’s fine writing is held up by two wonderful lead performances from Lara Deering and Nancy Case. Deering, as the mother, shudders with a brittle energy that threatens to turn into anger or paranoia, clutching tightly to her own agoraphobia and imagined slights against her like a safety blanket. Case, as her daughter Annie, gives a wonderfully understated performance, patient and resigned in the first two loops, and then protecting herself. As the routine conversations continue, repeat and then break apart, both actresses really come into their own. Deering brings the script to life, demonstrating perfectly the way that these same interactions can become something threatening violence, or anger, or just desperately sad, with the slightest change of inflection. Echlin should be commended for the attention given to speech, rhythm and body language in these repetitions. Case, meanwhile, grows as the character seems to, developing a magnetic air of self-assuredness by the third repeat, cutting into her mother’s deliberate misinterpretations of the world and unsettling them. She is at her best when Annie flips the script on its head and pre-empts the lines she’s supposed to say, both triumphant in her own strike against her mother, and sad underneath it.
Both performances are tremendously moving in the final scene, which throws light on the rest of the play. While I was less convinced by the resolution between mother and daughter, this was a fault of the script. Both actresses are desperately vulnerable as their characters attempt to reconstruct a relationship that didn’t really exist below the routinised conversations. Annie’s devastating line “Or maybe you were always a bit selfish and mean and it’s hard to notice when it’s your mum” captures the play’s subtle but pointed tugs at the heart: Case delivers it with a simple candour that’s desperately upsetting.
While there are some small issues – I would have liked to see a little more choreographing of the pair’s frequent circlings, and the blackouts were a little long for my taste – this is a self-assured, effortless production. Its plain-speaking truthfulness was all the more effective for its lack of showiness, and it is anchored by two powerful, natural performances. I left feeling that I’d seen something very truthful and very special.