This review was originally written for The Public Review.
Mrs Lowry is bedridden and has made a self imposed-exile from the world. She relies upon her son Laurie, a rent collector and an aspiring painter, for companionship, meals and the occasional foot rub. As the title suggests, this is a relationship dominated by the mother. She is overbearing and highly critical of his paintings to the point she has taken a near disownership of him. Her dreams of social aspiration have been destroyed by her dead husband’s deceit and inability to provide them a better life. Her shame and bitterness are taken out on her son. And all the while he soldiers on and deals with the situation the best he can.
This play, which started life as a radio drama written by Martyn Hesford, examines this fascinating relationship. Her constant belittling and harsh word towards her son tread a fine line of becoming too cruel and incessant for the audience. But under the well judged direction of Abbey Wright, the occasional praises and peace offerings, coupled with humour, alleviate and balance out the oppression. It may feel overly dramatised, but it does make the relationship believable. The play also explores a relationship where there is a fundamental difference in artistic and social ideology mixed with the dynamics of a mother and son interdependency. It features a beautifully created scene with a sip by sip account of her enjoyment of the sherry while Laurie looks on with indifference mixed with moments of bewilderment. This sums up how far apart they are emotionally. Another aspect of the play is that it gives a good account as to the reasons for her behaviour. The line “I will not be made to feel guilty, I’m entitled” sums it up perfectly and gives a deeper insight into her psyche. This multi-layered play extends to the exploration of class and the prominence of Manchester and Lancashire, just as they are in Lowry’s paintings.
The performance by June Watson as Mrs Lowry is outstanding, portraying a proud woman who feels life has mistreated her and who has complete faith in her self delusion. This is best illustrated when she indulges in the delight of music and her alleged musical prowess. The balance of the disappointment in her son and her complete dependence on him is subtly played out. Michael Begley captures the awkwardness and the put upon nature as the son. There is occasionally an uncertainty in his reaction and behaviour which may or may not be attributed to the oddness of his character. But there is a nice touch in the performance as Begley makes eye contact with the audience while his mother rants away as if seeking acknowledgement and solace for his experiences.
Coming in slightly shorter than the precisely advertised 1 hour 28 minutes, it is a fine production with strong performances and an emotional core. It may not have the strongest of narrative arch, but it gives an in-depth study of this mother and son relationship plus it has an interesting insight into a fine artist.