“Why are we struggling when everyone else isn’t?” asks a frustrated woman in My Son My Son. Here, back in the days of the Celtic Tiger, the tide is clearly failing to lift all boats.
For her excellent new production, Veronica Dyas finds inspiration in Bertolt Brecht’s “learning play” The Mother, where a woman, following her son’s arrest, is spurred into activism. But here the Mother (Lauren Larkin) arrives fully motivated, working in the community of Dublin’s Liberties and worried about her son’s trouble with the law. A fast and uplifting score by Seán Millar, expertly strummed by musician Leah Moore, sets the pace of a tireless volunteer effort reliant on donations and participation.
From the staggered recovery of the present (“I see the cranes are back”), the plot brings us back through stages of boom and bust. For some, that national story may already be familiar but there’s a sense of something new. A recent history of Dublin’s working class – concealed behind the local architecture inspiring Ciarán O’Melia’s elegant set, and made free by Carl Kennedy’s tranquil sound design – is put centre stage.
We follow Larkin’s resolute and kind-hearted Mother as she encounters an impressive gallery of characters played by a remarkable Amy Conroy – some more obviously oppressive (a shaming religious woman) than others (a tourist). In a salon, a hairdresser proudly recalls her role in the recent water protests but confesses she’d feel out of place in a broader anti-establishment march. At a wedding, a rape survivor insists she doesn’t need to speak about her trauma. Inhibition, it seems, has been subtly internalised.
Dyas’s play is concerned with deprivation. We may be nicely reminded of the past significance of the Liberties – a trade zone free from imperial control – by the Mother’s friend Mary (a superb Ericka Roe), but these days the neighbourhood struggles with poverty despite an uptick in the economy. The further back in time we go, the more focused a picture it becomes – an area untouched by wider progress.
In one of her staging’s distancing devices, Dyas reads aloud from the script:
“It’s probably a spiral. Our lives don’t make linear sense.” That sums up this brilliant play about a community caught in warp. Yet, satire doesn’t dominate the tone of a production that generously pays tribute to The Mother, as if a society, no less than a son, owe her thanks.
My Son My Son was on at Project Arts Centre in Dublin. Click here for more details.