At some point in everybody’s life they have to face the death of their mother, it’s inevitable and hurts so much when it happens. But, how much worse must it be when that death comes about not by natural causes, but by the deliberate and premeditated action of someone else? How do those left behind cope with knowing their mother was stolen from them by another? That is the central theme of “Where’s Your Mama Gone?” at the Hen and Chickens Theatre.
The story follows the lives of twins Stephen and Carol Connor (George Haynes and Marie Fortune), born into a poor working class family where their mama (Kluane Saunders) is forever trying to find ways to make ends meet, pay the bills and feed her children and work-shy, drunken husband. She will beg, borrow and steal – and do a lot more if he has to – in order to get a crust together until one day she makes a massive mistake. Paul Sutton (Noah Young) demands the fiver she borrowed from him. Unable to pay, something I’m sure Paul knew as he had just heard her on the phone asking her parents for money, Mama offers to settle the debt in a more personal way offering the mild mannered Paul sex to clear the debt, not realising that this time she will not be returning home to her family as Paul reveals his true colours in horrific form.
The consequences of this are profound for the family who are split up and put into various homes – Stephen and Carol fighting and succeeding in staying together – and grow up separated from each other. The twins have a rough life to say the least. Bullied in various children’s homes, they find solace together and are fiercely protective of each other. Finally after ten years of institutionalisation, aged sixteen, they are released from the system – some might say dumped – and left to fend for themselves. It’s probably no great surprise that things don’t go well for the siblings from this point on. They get involved in drugs, petty theft and violence as they try to cope not only with the normal trauma of moving into the adult world but also their battle with acceptance of their mother’s gruesome death at the hands of a man who is currently a guest of Her Majesty in a secure hospital – three meals a day and all the basket weaving you can get – and possibly facing the prospect of parole when he is deemed to no longer be a threat to society. Maybe the intervention of a naive young BBC production Assistant, called Jane, will be just what they need to finally be able to accept and move on with their lives.
Writer Brian Daniels based “Where’s Your Mama Gone?” on the murder of a 28 year old mother of four, Wilma McCann – the first victim of the Yorkshire Ripper – and really explored the effect such a traumatic event can have on young children. Making the main characters twins adds another layer to the story as the bond between the two is possibly stronger than that between non-twin brothers and sisters. Director Bernie C. Byrnes presents a show with no frills – a blank stage and the only props a couple of fold-away chairs – which leaves the audience’s attention totally focussed on the harrowing and gripping story and the actors telling it. Both Marie and George are fantastic in their portrayal of Carol and Stephen. At times talking directly to the audience – narrating parts of their and each other’s lives – and during flashback sequences appearing as children happy in their brief period of happiness before the real world turned their lives to dust. Kluane and Noah played all of the other roles brilliantly. Again, with minimum costume changes – but some wonderful accent work by Kluane – they made it obvious who each character was and where they fitted into the narrative.
There were some really powerful scenes throughout the production and a couple really stood out for me. The first was when Stephen meets Paul in prison. At times, during the very restrained meeting, I was surprised to find that I almost felt sorry for Paul. Having seen him with his wife earlier in the show, and learnt more of his story I could almost – but not quite – understand what had driven him to commit the horrible acts he did and I sort of got the feeling that Stephen felt the same for a period of the scene. Every second of this scene was gripping and you could see members of the audience sitting forward in their seats to ensure they didn’t miss a word. The second really stand out was when Stephen talked with his dead mother and finally had the opportunity to get some form of closure. This could have been a really irritating, soppy sentimental scene but the writer resisted the temptation to go for the easy option and turned the scene into one of confrontation, justification and recrimination – which felt absolutely right for the characters involved.
Ultimately although it has totally ruined the 1972 song from ‘Middle of the Road’ – used to great effect between scenes – “Where’s Your Mama Gone?” is a really great piece of theatre that makes the audience face the unthinkable but does it in a compelling and compassionate way remembering that real people are at the heart of every news story.
Review by Terry Eastham
WHERE’S YOUR MAMA GONE? is the story of the six year old twins whose mother was killed by a serial killer and were taken into care. At age sixteen, they leave the care home and begin to fend for themselves facing a life-long battle of identity, repressed anger and lost love.
Playwright, Brian Daniels, was living in Leeds when in 1975 the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ murdered his first victim, twenty-eight year old mother of four, Wilma McCann. It was through researching Wilma’s story and that of her children, that Brian was inspired to create WHERE’S YOUR MAMA GONE? – a fictional play based on the real events.
The play had a six week run at the Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds before transferring to the New End Theatre, Hampstead for a four week run in summer 2011. This new production will be its first revival and subsequent to the London run, the play will have a UK tour.
* * * * YORKSHIRE EVENING POST
WHERE’S YOUR MAMA GONE?
Written by Brian Daniels
Directed by Bernie C. Byrnes
Choreographer Jennie May Dunne
Cast: Marie Fortune, George Haynes, Kluane Saunders, Noah Young
5th to 30th May, Tuesday to Saturday 7pm, Saturday Mat 3.30pm
Wednesday 13th May 2015