25 August 2010

Review: All About My Mother

All About My Mother
Melbourne Theatre Company
19 August 2010
Sumner Theatre
to 26 September

I'm not sure why anyone would want to adapt a Pedro Almodovar film for the stage when there's a perfectly good film that can be popped into a DVD player. But the Melbourne Thearte Company liked the script (by Samual Adamson) and it's hard to resist the lure of casting Paul Capsis, Alison Whyte and Wendy Hughes.

As all adaptations should be, this All About My Mother is unlike its source. It's been taken off the streets and into the internal worlds of the characters. With a greater focus on the story and characters, the atmosphere of Barcelona backstreets, drugs, prostitutes, transvestites and transexuals is missing and it heads towards being a living room/backstage drama.

Manuela's (Whyte) son Esteban (Blake Davis) is killed in an accident when he's trying to get the autograph of great actress Huma Rojo (Hughes). Searching for Esteban's father (Lola, who is living as a woman), Manuela find her old friend Agrado (Capsis) and a pregnant nun (Katie Fitchett) and becomes Huma's personal assistant.

It's meant to be melodramatic and extreme and its super-high stakes and ridiculous coincidences make the story irresistible.

In Act One, Simon Phillips' direction stood back and let the story and the characters capture the audience's hearts and interest. This was supported by Stephen Curtis design, which nods to the film while leaving room for the story to unfold, and Alberto Iglesias' composition, structured by Ian Macdonald's sound design.

In Act Two, the melodrama takes over and drowns the story. It becomes less about caring and more about seeing how much emotion can be squeezed out of it. All the emotion is on the stage, as the audience are told how they should feel (complete with the underlining score), rather than letting us discover our own real emotions. Does anyone like being told how to feel?

This was especially apparent to me when I realised that not once in a piece about motherhood did I think about my mother.

All About My Mother is Almadovar made nice, which could be great if it brings new people to his films. But what I found especially distracting and a bit insulting was that Agrado – the transvestite prostitute – is played as the clown. Capsis performance is superb, but Agrado is the character who is getting laughed at. Almadovar does not laugh at his characters.  He laughs at the absurdity and universality of human weakness. He certainly doesn't laugh at the sexual, social or identity choices of the people in his world.

This review appears on AussieTheatre.com.

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