The whiteness of Mark Bailey’s minimally furnished set dazzles at first. Here is a place that feels soulless and drained of life. It is the home of empty nesters pushing 50, the children are gone, the father is free to seek pastures new and the mother is bereft, her useful life over and facing a future of memories, loneliness and despair. This is the second play by French writer Florian Zeller, translated by Christopher Hampton, to be seen at the Tricycle in recent months, following The Father (now in the West End), and similarities between the ways in which the writer depicts the central characters’ mental confusion are striking. Scenes are repeated from different perspectives, furniture appears and disappears between scenes, dashes of colour are added and taken away. The effect is that the audience becomes as disorientated as Anne, the mother, never quite able to distinguish between the real and the imagined. Is Peter (Richard Clothier) a devoted husband drawn away reluctantly to a seminar in Leicester or is he a philanderer stalling plans to end the marriage? Does Nicholas (William Postlethwaite), the son, really return home in the middle of the night or is this just wishful thinking on Anne’s part? Is the seductive Jodie (Frances McNamee), everything Anne aspires to still be, Nicholas’ girlfriend or Peter’s mistress? Zeller’s style is, in some ways, Pinteresque, but it is also distinctive and director Laurence Boswell tunes into it perfectly. However, the key to this production’s success is a magnificent performance by Gina McKee in the title role, at times quietly accepting her fate, but then fighting desperately to win back the beloved son who is her sole reason for existing. This is a powerful and disturbing piece of theatre.
Performance date: 9 March 2016