Written by Maria De Marco. Additional script support – Isabella Forte, Directed by Simon Ward
Review by Juliana Payne
There’s been no shortage over the years of complex, fraught and thorny mother/daughter relationships in Hollywood and on Broadway – from the real life memoir about Joan by Christina Crawford, to hard-to-please Aurora and daughter Emma in Terms of Endearment, to the baleful Margaret White in Carrie, and you could even include Mrs Bates (although strictly speaking Norman is not the right gender in Psycho). Suffice to say there’s nothing simple about this particular dynamic, and Maria De Marco and her collaborators have cleverly integrated and adapted a wonderful selection of Broadway showtunes to tell her own very particular mother/daughter story – except this time it’s a trauma triangle, with Maria’s mother and her own daughter at odds with her.
This funny, engaging and at times quite emotional production is framed as a piece of musical theatre and structured via the famous 12-step Alcoholics Anonymous process. Simon Ward’s wise choice of direction means they don’t follow the classic musical theatre arc but it’s rather more like Sondheim’s Follies with a series of memory vignettes between the mother and daughter that don’t follow any particular plot. No loss though, and it means they don’t need sets and other theatrical fripperies – the performers do it all. The tiny basement venue had a kind of off-off-Broadway appeal, and while we missed having a follow spot for their audience incursions off stage, they made best use of the small floorspace and stage.
The songs, performed beautifully by Maria De Marco and Esther Monck (Bella the daughter) align thematically and emotionally with each step. With a bit of dialogue in between and some fun audience participation thrown in, they go at a cracking pace and the tempo never flags. With a pretty good sound system and a fantastic piano accompaniment by Andy Freeborn, who even gets to tell a joke or two as well, the women in full throat give their best belting Broadway style to the tunes.
People may think that musical theatre is just a bit of fun, with actors like Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson breaking into song at any given moment. However, musicals have a solid tradition of tackling big ideas and the moral ambiguities of our complex world – love, death, belonging, loneliness, the meaning of right and wrong – and Back to MA is no different. (MA by the way stands for ‘Motherholics Anonymous’ which captures the ‘can’t live with you, can’t live without you’ motif of the performance.) Maria De Marco has kept that lovely wry humour to spice up the schmaltz in the best Broadway tradition, and the adaptations to some of the songs keep them sharp and alive. Maria De Marco also has the most wonderful mobile and versatile face which creates every expression from A-Z in a trice, and has the audience eating out of her hand.
As well as the laughs, they captured some poignant moments that were up there with the best of the old musicals, such as in Gypsy when Mama Rose – who apart from being the ultimate show-biz mumzilla has her own secret dreams all undone when Gypsy says to her plaintively at the end, “I thought you did it all for me, momma…”
Maria De Marco’s character at one point keeps repeating “I am my mother. I am not my mother” which pretty well sums it up without summing it up. Reminded me of Algernon’s gnomic quip in The Importance of Being Ernest – “All women become like their mothers. That’s their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”
Back to M.A played every Sunday in June 2022.
Written by Maria De Marco
Performed by Maria De Marco & Esther Monck
Directed by Simon Ward
Musical Director/ Accompanist – Andy Freeborn
Additional script support – Isabella Forte
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