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Exploring life's orbit through maternal magnetism


Look Mum, No Hands, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, until February 3.

We are in Withernsea on the coast of East Yorkshire, a seagull’s flight from the current City of Culture. More precisely, we’re in a wheelie-bin at the back of Aldi and close to the beach.

We’re hiding from the “kiddie-catcher”, otherwise known as the truancy officer. And we’re waiting . . . waiting for the sun to go down and the moon to come up. Waiting for a visitor from somewhere out there with the Moon and the Sun in the universe beyond the North Sea.

Spacewang, a short play by Tom Wells, takes us into the chaotic world of Nora, one of those old-fashioned names that have made a comeback after a long-absence.

Leonie Slater, pictured above, gives a memorable solo performance as a girl in her early teens who is not only in the wheelie-bin but off the rails and on the edge. In the hedge, too. That’s where she hides from mates on the way to school before skipping off to nick another bottle of vodka from the supermarket. It is easy, she assures us.

Not so easy is letting go. Not just of the handlebars or the safety bar on the roundabout but of the person who gave us life and showed us the first steps along its hazardous path.

The overall title Look Mum, No Hands, spans two plays that explore that theme in very different ways.

“Gods are fallen and All Safety Gone” (a quote from Steinbeck, since you ask) was the title chosen by playwright Selma Dimitrijevic. It takes us into a very different setting of chintzy table cloths and wing-backed armchairs.

Criterion stalwart Jean Firth plays an elderly mum clinging on to life with a clenched determination that shuts out all goodwill. Lilian McGrath captures beautifully the stress and tension of a daughter coming to terms with the decline of her one-time role-model.

Under Jane Railton’s direction, the plays are introduced and linked through some soulful songs by Nicole Firth and inventive piano-playing from the flexible fingers of local composer Sophie Hadlum. Two more reminders there of the incredible span of female talent alone in one small corner of the next City of Culture.

Barbara Goulden adds:

I loved the poignancy spliced with humour and fantasy in Spacewang.

Leonie Slater's solo performance is spellbinding and Tom Wells' sharply observed script spins a wed around the audience. It's really worth seeing.

In the other short play Jean Firth wrings the heart and irritates the life out of everyone, not least her "daughter", played by the talented Lilian McGrath.

Both plays are loosely based on the idea that we don't realise how important our mothers are, until they're gone.

The evening was set off by some beautiful singing by Nicole Firth, followed by young pianist and composer Sophie Hadlum.

Winner!