Things I Hate About Mother

Dunedin Public Art Gallery Auditorium, Dunedin

03/10/2008 - 12/10/2008

Otago Festival of the Arts

Production Details

Lauded in the NZ Listener last year for ‘Hairway to Heaven’ as "Best New Play-No contest", Sarah McDougall’s newest work is forecast to further consolidate her reputation. Things I Hate About Mother will premiere in a powerful season throughout the Festival.

Inventive, astute and funny Things I Hate About Mother is an engrossing play that reveals the life, loves and tensions between everyday mothers and sons in an inventive structure that intertwines the complex strands of maternal relationships.

Things I Hate About Mother is a contemporary portrayal of a pakeha whakapapa where history and inheritance is forever present drawing upon film and live music to intensify the colour of this tale of love.

After each performance the audience is invited to discuss their response to the play in a brief forum with the cast.

Things I Hate About Mother
3-5 Oct & 7-12 Oct 8pm
Dunedin Public Art Gallery Auditorium
$30/$22 Regent Ticketek And Door Sales
General Admission   

Jel Davenport
Wilbur McDougall
Elsa McKeown
Michael Metzger
Hilary Norris 

Lighting design by Stephan Kilroy

1hr 20 mins, no interval

Perspicacity, charm and potential for improvement

Review by Terry MacTavish 12th Oct 2008

Right from the start there is a comfortable sense of familiarity to Things I Hate About Mother. Sarah McDougall has an astute ear for the vernacular, and a willingness to expose her own typical mum quirks for the world to snigger at, perhaps even ridicule. There are no deep insights here, just an affectionately cheeky look at our primal relationship.

Who but your mother dares insult your intelligence with every other sentence?
"Be careful with the knife, dear, it’s sharp…Where are you going?"
"Just to the toilet!"
"You should have gone before you sat down."

Before our very eyes mother Olive lays the table and produces a real roast dinner which is then served to middle-aged son James, who is leaving to take up a job in London. Mum has a few things to remind him about before he goes, from his French colonial heritage, to his need to feed himself properly, find a girlfriend, and fumigate his shoes.

Interspersed throughout the goodbye meal are vignettes showing relationships between other mothers and sons, the scenes loosely linked by a peripatetic crystal bowl.

Director Julie Edwards handles the material with practised ease and the play slips down as easily as a good gravy. The Art Gallery space, notoriously difficult to adapt, has been transformed charmingly by a circle of flax bushes linked by washing lines, and onto one of the sheets there are pictures projected of early-settler life in New Zealand. The audience surround the acting area, probably all hoping to be offered a slice of chicken breast.

Hilary Norris is delightfully amusing as Olive, a role she could no doubt play in her sleep, but succeeds in keeping fresh and lively. Although her sudden attempt at a can-can seems out of place for such a conventional lady, her wistful singing of the old French folksong, and her gentle flow of reminiscence over the family photo-album, are beautifully apposite. Despite the ghastly wig, Norris is, as always, a pleasure to watch.

It is also easy to warm to Mark Metzger as her patient son, exasperated, but endlessly forgiving towards Olive. He knows her little ways, endures her typical maternal build-up/ put-down cycles, and frequently choruses along with her favourite sayings. Their scenes come to a climax when, more in sorrow than in anger, he accuses her of preferring his brother, the more outwardly successful member of the family.

Of the other actors, Elsa Mckeown gives the most entertaining cameos, particularly as a sluttish mum in fuck-me boots, unable to comprehend why her son needs to know who his father was. "I named him Roxburgh – his father could have been any of the orchard workers." She also plays Olive’s unsympathetic daughter-in-law, the only one of the peripheral characters who seems to have a connection to the main plotline.  

This disconnection causes a disturbing lack of coherence, and reveals a weakness in the script. The play cries out for subtle connections between the characters that would challenge us, and assist the main plot to grow to something of greater substance.

Still, there are many interesting takes on the trials and compensations of mother/ son relationships, with normally ebullient William McDougall giving an especially moving performance as a son with a bedridden mother (Jel Davenport), who has to be toileted by her son in the middle of the night.

Things I Hate About Mother is a well directed and performed new play that has perspicacity and charm, but also has the potential to be something more. With some judicious rewriting, this could be a play that makes greater demands of an audience, and consequently offers greater rewards.

The Otago Festival of the Arts has done tremendous work, both in importing famous overseas groups and in encouraging our local playwrights to new heights. 


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