Rob Harkavy reviews Mother of Him starring Tracy-Ann Oberman at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, London.

Cinema is the go-to medium for portraying a sense of menace; unexpected edits, creepy music and unsettling lighting can transform the most innocuous of scenes into anything from the mildly discombobulating to hide-behind-the-sofa terrifying.

Theatre – especially fringe theatre – is unable to call on such trickery, and so it is a credit to the deft direction of Max Lindsay that the Park Theatre’s auditorium is cloaked in an almost tangible sense of foreboding moments after curtain up. We know something isn’t quite right when, just a couple of minutes into the action, a persistently ringing phone is ignored.

Tracy-Ann Oberman (Brenda Kapowitz) – Mother of Him – Park Theatre – Photos by Bronwen Sharp

Tracy-Ann Oberman as Brenda, the on-the-edge mother of Matthew, is electrifying. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as the unbearable pressure of her nightmarish situation builds. Fierce yet vulnerable, both tiger mama and victim of circumstance, time and again she confirms why she is one of our best loved and most versatile actors.

Matthew has done A Very Bad Thing, so unspeakable that a baying pack of feral press hounds is parked permanently outside the front door, flashbulbs poised in the quest for a story and a photo.

For sure, as the play’s title suggests, this is the story of a mother and the testing of her unconditional love. But that’s not all: when does childhood indiscretion become adult responsibility? Does the press care about the truth or is it all about a good story? How much is a mother to blame for her son’s crimes? Do father’s matter? This is a piece that challenges us, that makes its audience think, and that is no bad thing.

The company was perfectly cast and entirely credible, with Matt Goldberg, as Brenda’s younger son Jason, surely one to watch, betraying a maturity that by rights should be beyond any 12-year-old. His skilfully measured portrayal of innocence caught in a web of horror was outstanding, contributing hugely to a well-deserved standing ovation.

Mother of Him runs at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park, until 26 October. Go and see it.

Picture credits: Bronwen Sharp

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