Mum's Choir_ATC

SKY CITY Theatre, Auckland

01/06/2006 - 24/06/2006

Production Details

by Alison Quigan
Directed by John Callen

In an age where funerals have overtaken reunions as the best means to bring a family together, Mum’s Choir is a joyous celebration of the often incongruous time families have when farewelling a fond old relative.

The O’Reilly family members have returned to Auckland to bury their Mum. The old home still resonates with memories of growing up in the 60s and 70s – outrageous parties, fine kiwi cuisine (courtesy of the Edmond’s Cookbook), the odd game of improvised cricket on the back lawn and of course, Mum’s famous raucous sing-alongs.

Mum had ambitious plans for her kids when they were young – and she has ambitious plans for them now – as her last dying wish she’s requested the family master Faure’s technically treacherous Requiem for her funeral service! What with coping with grief, visitors, Yorkshire Pudding catastrophes, funeral arrangements, sibling squabbles and clearing out the liquor cabinet, Mum’s Choir have their work cut out to learn their parts in time. But they’re determined to give Mum the send off she deserves.

Some of New Zealand theatre’s favourite comic personalities including Elizabeth McRae (Spreading Out), Cameron Rhodes (Up For Grabs), Paul Barrett (The Bach) and Kate-Louise Elliott (Shortland Street), join Alison Quigan (Taking Off) to tell the O’Reilly Family story.

Mum’s Choir is based on Quigan’s own experience of the family dynamics surrounding her mother’s death.

“When my Mother died in 2001 the experience my family and I had in dealing with the journey of death to burial was intense – we laughed, cried and laughed again reliving our Mum’s life.  I truly believe there is more laughter at funerals than at weddings!” Alison Quigan.

John Callen, director of 2005’s smash-hit comedy Taking Off by Roger Hall, agrees Mum’s Choir is a warm-hearted play that all New Zealander’s will relate to.

“Mum’s Choir touches on something we all have to deal with sooner or later – the death of one’s parents. In that intense, emotional and often absurd time between death and funeral, the O’Reilly family finds solace in song. They’re frantically trying to learn the difficult requiem for their mum but keep getting distracted with more popular, easier songs from their youth”, John Callen.

Paul Barrett, Heather Bolton, Jamie McCaskill,
Kate-Louise Elliott, Elizabeth McRae, Cameron Rhodes and Alison Quigan

Theatre ,

Potential subverted as tunes keep rolling

Review by Kate Ward-Smythe 05th Jun 2006

Alison Quigan has constructed a delightful vehicle to stage a series of memorable tunes from a by-gone era while, at the same time, provide some heart-warming moments as five siblings return to the family home, where they must confront the death of their mother. To extend the musical aspect, Alison has bestowed the task of learning and performing Faure’s Requiem on the tribe, to fulfil their mother’s dying wish.

The opening is heart-felt and the audience cannot help but allow their own memories to unfold. We empathise while each child tries to cope with, and communicate their loss. Alison’s writing captures not only these emotions, but also the little things, such as cups of tea, the practicalities of organising the funeral, squabbling siblings, and of course the inevitable: who gets what.

The bickering is particularly effective between Kev, (Cameron Rhodes) and Terri, (Kate-Louise Elliott), whose personality and presence is larger than life, even before taking into account the imminent arrival of her next child. Initially, I found Terri overwhelming, but Kate-Louise’s boisterous energy keeps the mood buoyant and her dialogue is often a tonic to the sombre task at hand. Cameron captures Kev’s inner turmoil extremely well.

Elizabeth McRae is delightful and witty as Auntie Nola, from the moment she appears. The status play between Nola and the kids for mum’s ‘throne’ is penned perfectly.

Paul Barrett plays Noel with poignant, understated, and at times, deflated energy. He provides an effective contrast to the sister’s chatter as he valiantly tries to mediate and distract his emotional siblings by driving the rehearsals for the Requiem.

Heather Bolton has a fine singing voice and is given many opportunities to use it.

Alison’s script is warm hearted, jollied along with witty banter, and topical jokes. She even calls on Telecom’s board members for a laugh.

As a performer, Alison is the mistress of the comic one-liner, but she also conveys the emotional journey of Cathy with truth and honesty. She is particularly moving as she delivers the eulogy, to the point where I wonder if Mum’s Choir has missed an alternative ending.

Set Designer John Parker’s photo-montage as a backdrop, is full of wonderful familiar images, right down to the pretty frilly frock, white socks and shiny black shoes for Sunday best. It is the perfect invitation to join the family at Mum’s place. In front of the captured memories, lies a homely setting with every flat surface jam-packed with more photos, crockery and clutter.

All visual aspects of Mum’s Choir evoke an air of the past: costumes (by Victoria Ingram), lighting (by Vera Thomas), set, furniture and fittings, appear to be in sepia, with variations of brown, grey and kaki filling the stage from start to finish. Only the constant arrival of fresh flowers brightens up the evening.

The action is limited to one set, but director John Callen continually varies the pace, and the dialogue flows naturally as a result.

There are many light musical moments in Mum’s Choir, and when the songs suit the abilities of the cast, under the Musical Direction of Laughton Pattrick, assisted by Paul Barrett, they are delicious.

The first half ends with a trio from the sisters, showcasing each at their vocal best, and thanks to some savvy steps from Sue Trainer, it’s perfect in it’s delivery and mood.

However, after interval, Mum’s Choir struggles to gain momentum and significance, as it dissolves unashamedly into an endless string of songs, not always with effective musical results. Case and point would have to be the extended version of Don’t Get Around Much Anymore. Not only was it too long, badly harmonised, and difficult to pull off as a duet, it did nothing to advance the play, right when a new development was needed.

Matt’s return from the Solomons – a young, handsome Māori man in uniform – could’ve brought with it a new perspective. But, though well played by Jamie McCaskill, Matt brings nothing with him but more empathy and song.

Some true grit could have come from developing Kev’s story, or exploring the hint of a new boyfriend for spinster sister Jean. However, by curtain call, these stories and others, remain just teases of interesting information. Their development and resolve might give Mum’s Choir more dynamic.

As it is, we know where we are heading fairly early on in the evening. But whether or not Faure’s Requiem will be performed, as mum wanted it, is not enough to drive the play to a memorable point. Especially when a legitimate tenor or two is missing from the cast.

While the first half of Mum’s Choir, (with its exposition of the family dynamics), is full of potential, after interval, stories stagnate, as potential development gives way to song. As an air of predictability creeps in, by the end, although the upbeat tunes keep rolling on and on, any other point has been lost.

However, there is no doubt Mum’s Choir has huge appeal for an older demographic, who will delight in all it has to offer.


Danny Mulheron June 5th, 2006

I think I am going to puke.

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