REVIEW: Mother Adam

  • Presented by Triumph Theatre Productions.
  • British Tour: 1973

PETER’s Character: Adam

 PETER-5

 PETER as Adam, with Hermione Baddeley as his mother.

This production of Charles Dyer’s third play in a trilogy on loneliness which began in 1963 “This is a story of a man and his mother, of courage and optimism: of how Adam becomes a saint… nearly!”

It is the present in Mammle’s attic, a Sunday in a cathedra town. The museum is nearby.

This production of Charles Dyer’s third play in a trilogy on loneliness which began in 1963 “This is a story of a man and his mother, of courage and optimism: of how Adam becomes a saint… nearly!”

This production of Charles Dyer’s third play in a trilogy on loneliness which began in 1963 with the incomparable ‘Rattle Of A Simple Man’ and ‘Staircase’ (1966), was hailed by critics as a greatly improved version than that first performed by Roy Dotrice and Beatrix Lehmann at the Arts Theatre (and others) some 18 months earlier. This time an equally powerful pair in the form of Herminone Baddeley and PETER WYNGARDE had been brought together under the author’s direction, but in spite of the excellent display they gave of their versatility and talent, the impact of Dyer’s efforts were interesting, if somewhat muddled.

The two characters: an aging, bed-ridden mother – “Mammles”, and her forlornly attached son – Adam, inhabit an attic, from where she watches the egress from the cathedral below through a mirror placed high on the wall.

Ms. Baddeley played the formidable old lady in a mood of eccentric ill-will. Clad in a turban-like auburn wig, and propped up against her pillows like a discarded bag of laundry, she is attended by her loving but volatile son, who Peter portrayed in a strong virtuoso style which belied his television posturing as Jason King.

While the grizzly old invalid spends her days fantasizing about the goings-on in the world outside, her museum curator-son finds himself caught up in a dream world of his own. Feeding his mother’s fantasies, he is rarely allowed to touch on reality, and his whole life appears to revolve around an old chest which holds some extraordinary secret relating to the true identity of his father and his colonial origins.

Unlike ‘Rattle of a Simple Man’, ‘Mother Adam’ was somewhat more static, a more profound statement on human relationships. In fact, in the first act it became downright ponderous! There were many poetic, even brittle lines – a few of them pointedly wicked – as Adam indulged in both his, and his mother’s, world of make-believe. His seemingly child-like fixation with naming (and re-naming) his penis were played out by PETER with struts and spruce – even dashing – charm. The incidental delights of the piece, which involved the beleaguered son at first in pyjamas painting his mother’s bed, then dressed as an admiral in borrowed braid; a parson; a doctor, was met by the audience with laughter and applause.

MOTHERADAM

The play was written in a variety of moods and melodic verbal flights. Mother and son bicker and grumble, indulge in games and sing hymns. They are two victims chained by love, resentment, and dependence. By offering sour grapes to guests, ‘Mother Adam’ shares the perverse audacity of its predecessors in the trilogy. Adam’s mocking, ironic, self-knowingness teems with such cleverness and relative balance that it is difficult to accept him as a candidate for madness or loneliness. His exclusion from the world; from marriage; from sex, seems somehow unjustified. The only consideration barring him from taking a wife is that his mother must enter a home for the elderly, but as they squabble and cuddle in incestuous monotony, any salvation by the proposed spouse is crushed by a glance at the programme: No second woman is included.

Hermione Baddley’s inimitable skill at characterization was used to create a formidable, selfish and demanding monster of a mother, calcified with arthritis, yet played with just sufficient humour to relieve the tension. Thankfully, she resisted the temptation to go over into revue caricature – not an easy matter considering the cottage-loaf wig she wore! And yet her performance had integrity closely linked to the woman’s peculiar missionary experiences and her present existence stuck in the bottleneck of frustration by her own incapacity.

Each character was observed through the other’s eyes, and Peter added to this by portraying Adam in depth; a man tied by love, respect, and boredom – making life bearable by playing schizophrenic games of borrowed identity and pushing his inadequacy at work and sex to the recesses of his mind. Together, these two players, aided by Dyer’s direction, gave the play a surface lightness of mood which emphasized the basic seriousness of them. This underlying emptiness revealed itself in Peter’s eyes at certain despairing moments, when more potently than words they revealed his need for love – a need denied him, even by his own mother. He talks about lost opportunity; she prattles on about her past life in a blousy, domineering way. Here we had the reversal of the classical role: Instead of the daughter tied to the mother’s apron strings, draining her life away, it is the son, sacrificing himself in filial devotion.

In his programme notes, Charles Dyer said: “We should be more content at sparrows, spring-fluttering by the clock; a sudden day, tail up, then the cock-bird and satisfaction matter-of-factly.” This was typical of the gibbering language characterizing the dialogue. Adam: “You apocytical baggage!” Mother: “Christmas mandarin behind an April sofa!”

What is the man, asks Dyer, and who is his father?

But stating the subject matter so bluntly is to praise Charles Dyer. In effect, the grapes are not sour, but waxen. The dialogue, whether maundering or mandarin, has the artificial precocity of a writer doodling with words as opposed to dealing with their meaning: even less so dealing with action. The piece was repetitively laced with religious or colonial verbal attacks and criticisms. In effect, reminiscent of the wooden chest which is the centre of Adam’s existence.

On the whole, the play was presented in a most enjoyable fashion – in fact, one critic suggested that there was nothing there to offend. Even a child would enjoy the battle between age and youth. However, the play did require perseverance – the reward for which came in no short measure to be found in the brilliant and exciting performances of a fine actor and actress.

AUDIENCE OPINION

How stimulating it was to read the fine criticism by W. Paduch concerning the play ‘Mother Adam’ at the Kings.

It was a good play, finely portrays by such wonderful acting. The deep tragedy underlying the bantering talk between mother and son, had a depth and profundity that the author and the actors brought to life.

The symbolism made real the pain of living, transparent behind their seemingly foolish talk. May we never lose the sense of wonder at the vision of eternal youth.

Dixon-Child, Southsea.

My friends and I thoroughly enjoyed the paly, ‘Mother Adam’, and were certainly not bored. The acting of PETER and Hermione was superb.

The play was marvelously written and the words spoken, to the point of their lives, over to the audience. If this was so wrong and disgusting, then we may as well become imbeciles. The only moan I have heard from most people is the PETER WYNGARDE did not look or act like Jason King. This seemed to annoy them

Lynn Haines, Cosham

Taken from The Portsmouth News – 27th February, 1973.

 CRITIC’S COMMENT…

“…an odd role you might think for PETER WYNGARDE. But since the sick-room relationship is kept vital and bearable by the son’s flow of talk and outrageous play-acting, it is an attractively eloquent one for him.” – The Birmingham Evening Mail – January 23rd, 1973.

PETER WYNGARDE gives a performance of near genius – a great actor in the very best sense of the word.” Harold Hobson, Theatre Critic.

“…As for PETER WYNGARDE, in this play he approaches with a quiet, unassuming step, very close to greatness.” The Times – January 23rd, 1973.

“…And PETER WYNGARDE as her much-mothered son extracts all possible sympathy from an implausible and over-written script.” Eric Shorter – Daily Telegraph January 17th, 1973.


The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/

 

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