(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/27.)
It is important to remember that Florian Zeller’s 2010 play was written four years before The Father. The two works have a lot in common, including a deft Christopher Hampton translation, a provenance at the Ustinov Studio, Bath, and a focus on the elusiveness of objective reality. But while The Mother is deeply involving, it strikes me as more formulaic than its successor.
As in Zeller’s study of dementia, we are offered differing versions of the same experience. The stressed-out 47-year-old protagonist, Anne, is a woman who claims: “I’ve been had all the way down the line.” She is fretfully suspicious of her husband, Peter, about to leave her for a four-day business conference in Leicester. She is even more desolate about her neglect by her son, Nicholas, and fiercely jealous of his relationship with his girlfriend, Elodie. Zeller plays beautifully on the fears and anxieties of a woman who has invested everything in family relationships and for whom, in midlife, society provides no visible role. But while the play tantalises and intrigues, it never quite achieves the fluidity Zeller perfected in The Father: there is a discernible pattern to Anne’s alternation of confrontational aggression and morose depression.