Christie’s misfortune is deeper than any we have ever encountered. Having lost everything, she is on the streets with only memories of trauma, to while the days away, like a waking recurring nightmare. Daniel Keene’s Mother is about the hardest life a person can bear, a shocking Greek tragedy made real and salient for our times. It goes beyond an examination of mental health deterioration, to create a portrayal of the person underneath the illness, with all her humanity intact.
Keene is fascinated by the monster or, more accurately, the social pariah, but is interested in reaching a compassionate understanding of what we usually and conveniently regard as abhorrent. Mother insists that we connect with its subject. Countless moments of disarming poignancy, make us identify with this strange creature. It rejects our impulse to think of Christie as alien and disposable, insisting that we walk a mile in her shoes.
The role is magnificently performed by Noni Hazlehurst, who proves that perfection in art, is attainable and not just an abstract construct. She presents her one-woman show with flawless technical brilliance, leaving us in awe of the superhuman feat that is under way, whilst keeping us firmly locked into the narrative of Christie’s utter destitution. Hazlehurst being at the top of her game, allows us to see so clearly, what it is like for a woman languishing at the very bottom of the heap. The actor’s capacity for persuasion is extraordinary. The sense of authenticity that Hazlehurst is able to convey, feels boundless; there seems no delineation between the suffering of actor and character. She tells a tale of pain and we are shaken by it, no matter where we think the anguish comes from.
It is an exceedingly elegant piece of direction by Matt Scholten, whose minimal approach is impressive in its confidence. However, it is questionable if the staging adequately addresses Belvoir’s comparatively large auditorium. The production is a dynamic one that oscillates deftly between states declarative and poetic, with the quieter scenes tending to wane slightly in the big hall. Sound design by Darius Kerdros is inventive and effectively evocative, and Tom Willis’ lights add an ephemeral beauty to the potent melancholy he establishes for the space. Costume designer Kat Chan ensures that Christie looks every bit the vagrant we pretend not to see in every Australian city.
A tremendous sadness permeates the play. Whether or not we wish to make personal connections, it is of fundamental importance that we are cognisant of our responsibilities regarding all the neighbours who surround us, no matter how they reside. Humanity is worth nothing, if we choose not to care for those in need. Christie, like any human being, is not blameless, but the moment we give up on trying to bring improvements to her life, is when we have to seriously interrogate our priorities as a first-world society.