Good One Theatre’s last show, I Have Never, earned rave reviews for its depiction of three uni housemates about to go out into the real world. With the company’s new production Mum’s The Word, writer Robert Hughes simultaneously takes us forward and back in time, as four old school friends meet in a trendy Soho bar for their annual get-together, seven years after going their separate ways. But what’s become a meaningless ritual takes an unexpected turn when memories are stirred of an event the four women vowed never to speak of again.
Under Adam Wright’s direction, the tension is palpable from the start, as first to arrive Jess (Danielle Williams) touches up her make-up and tries to explain to the waiter – who’s also her boyfriend (Lewis Clarke) – why she’s dreading the encounter. And when Em (Emily Bairstow) turns up, followed by Heidi (Lizzie Grace) and Belinda (Bella Balfe), all becomes clear. The ensuing hour has all the bitchiness, petty rivalry and awkward silences you’d expect from four women who, we soon learn, have little in common besides the fact they once shared a room at school.
In fact, it’s hard to imagine how the four could ever have been friends at all; they’re so different. Heidi’s nice but dim, Belinda’s an ambitious feminist on the brink of a political career, Em’s always looking for her next sexual conquest, and Jess is a fading TV star who’s all too aware of the fact her fortunes may have peaked at I’m a Celebrity. This cocktail of personalities makes for a fascinating exploration of female relationships, with plenty of laughs and a few “did she really just say that?” moments along the way.
The social tension shifts to something much darker with the arrival of Nathan (Joseph Passafaro), a handsome stranger who immediately catches Em’s eye, but ends up giving them all a lot more than they bargained for. Joseph Passafaro has a disarming charm that catches us all off guard, and though his appearance lasts no more than a few minutes, it makes quite the impact.
Robert Hughes’ story is carefully structured to distract and surprise us throughout, with a concluding twist that’s so brilliant in its simplicity, you feel you should have seen it coming. Each member of the cast gets their moment in the spotlight, even the relatively minor character of Aidan the waiter/boyfriend, and there’s great chemistry between them; even putting aside the suspense of the deep dark secret, the sizzling tension keeps us gripped as we wait to see who – if anyone – will snap first.
In some ways, Mum’s The Word is an unlikely story – the fact that the girls keep meeting despite clearly not liking each other, the events that bond them, and the appearance of Nathan all seem just a bit farfetched. But the script absolutely nails the relationship between the women; some of the things they say to each other are uncomfortably familiar, especially to those of us who went to an all-girls school and didn’t enjoy it all that much…
Packed full of drama, laughs and surprises, Mum’s The Word is undoubtedly another triumph for Good One Theatre, and I for one can’t wait to see what they do next.
Mum’s The Word is at the Hen and Chickens until 29th October.