Our theatre reviewer, Hannah Hobson, shares her thoughts on Mumsy at Hull Truck Theatre.
Rounding out Hull Truck’s fiftieth anniversary season is a full-length debut from Hull’s very own, Lydia Marchant. Mumsy is an exploration of the ups and downs of motherhood across three generations. It’s part drama, part comedy, with a powerhouse cast and some pop classics on the transitions. What a closing act to the 2022 celebrations.
The three women in the cast, Jessica Jolleys, Nicola Stephenson and Sue Kelvin, are giving extraordinary performances. As Sophie, the 22-year-old mother to be, Jolleys is vulnerable and delicate, occasionally a little more unsure than her castmates but somehow this only adds to the pathos of her portrayal. Flanking her are Stephenson, as Sophie’s mother, Rachel, and Kelvin, as Nanna Linda. Both women demonstrate perfect comic timing, accentuating Marchant’s witty dialogue as well as some excellent physical turns. Stephenson thrives in the messy shoes of Rachel, perfectly inhabiting all her heart, guilt and independence, foiled by Kelvin’s passive aggression and pride as Linda. It is truly a joy to watch these actresses spar with each other.
These performances are facilitated by Marchant’s masterful writing of character. Their relationships are so well drawn that, as an audience, we feel part of the family. We laugh with them, cry with them and occasionally feel we ought to give one or the other of them a good talking to. The first act is whip-crack funny, while underwriting the drama which will carry us through the second. I will say that this sometimes gave the play a somewhat disjointed tone – the first half and the second have entirely different moods – but this was more than offset by our investment into the characters. Not only that but Marchant has expressed some lofty and complex themes with an exceptional sensitivity. She uses her excellent command of character as a prism to explore a full and colourful spectrum of motherhood.
Zoë Waterman’s direction serves the play very well. The pacing is well-managed and the evocative set – designed by Bronia Housman – is utilised to create a show which feels dynamic and naturalistic. There is an understanding of the chaos of life which spirals out into the world of the play, whether that be in boxes and pillows strewn across the floor or the ever changing setup of pans on the counter. This is also a testament to Housman’s set and costuming. The space feels lived in and entirely consistent to the characters. Jessica Brigham’s touch of constantly adjusting the lighting so different windows are lit in the block of flats behind is also a wonderful storytelling touch. Throughout the play, Brigham’s lighting is subtle and expressive.
Mumsy is a play with a huge heart, taking some excellent writing, some exceptional performances and some great staging to tell a story so familiar to the personal lives of most women I know and yet so rarely seen onstage. It is sometimes funny, sometimes desperately sad and often shimmering between the two. I could write for pages more about the pertinent things it says about the cost of raising children, the strain of food poverty and the importance of community but ultimately it comes down to this: it’s a brilliant piece of theatre. Grab your mum, or your nanna or your daughter and get down to Hull Truck Theatre to see it for yourself.
Mumsy runs at Hull Truck Theatre until Saturday 25 March 2023. Book your tickets at www.hulltruck.co.uk/whats-on/drama/mumsy