Sunday, June 1, 2014

Chalk Farm: A Mother's Love

Photo by Carol Rosegg

"The world means something else to them."

Since even the days of Romeo and Juliet, parents and teens never seem to see eye-to-eye but in Kieran Hurley and AJ Taudevin's play Chalk Farm the struggles to communicate and connect between a single mother and her son are exacerbated by circumstances of the 2011 London riots.  An unexpected story about the lengths a mother will go to to take care of her child and a window into the class wars still at issue today in the UK. 

Single mom Maggie (Julia Taudevin) packs a lunch and babies Jamie (Thomas Dennis) who at 14 would rather be out with his mates at a rundown playground than home with his mom in their high rise estate (housing project) overlooking the area of London called Chalk Farm. When the London riots kick off, Jamie promises Maggie that he's safely ensconced in his mate's flat. But he lies. Out on the street he feels the electricity of the mob and joins in the looting and destruction--what his friend Junior keeps calling "history."  He thinks of his mother when he's out there but only to grab her something nice, not once dwelling on the consequences of his actions.

In the aftermath of the riots (which started after police shot an unarmed black man, Mark Duggan), many theories were raised as to what caused the looting, vandalism, and violence that spread to many cities in the U.K.  Hurley and Taudevin make the political much more personal here in Chalk Farm.  They look to Jamie and Maggie in this microcosm of London to illustrate how the riots, the blame, the struggles, and the class issues raised, impacted the city. 

I first caught Chalk Farm at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. But a terrible venue made it hard for me to get a good grip on the show which is a two-hander with a substantial dependence on sound, projections, and music to build the show's overall tone and style.  I'm glad I gave it another chance but in the end the delicate and careful writing still seems to get lost for me behind projections and sound design.

The play is most successful in addressing the struggles of parenting--parenting alone and in the face of societal judgment. Maggie is confronted with people making assumptions about the rioters.  Her rage at her neighbors for unknowingly casting aspersions on her and her son--"Scum of the earth. Pig. Chav"--sets her seething.  And then for a moment we see where some of the rage on the streets comes from.  Taudevin finds a roar inside Maggie which until that moment we had not seen.  It's a beautiful performance that captures her sadness, tiredness, and rage all with equal skill.

Although the riots are a catalyst to this story but they remain visually remote in the production.  I think for those who lived through them there is no need to splash images of what happened--everyone has an image or personal experience to reference.  Despite the heavy use of technology in the show to show locations and set a tone (it was quite effective for the use of CCTV cameras which are so prevalent in the UK but a foreign concept to us) the projections did not give the riots context I was craving.  There were two moments where the projections delivered something beyond the text, but for the most part they felt superfluous and maybe even sometimes got in the way of the quiet drama offered by the cast. 

I received complimentary tickets to this production.

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