Your mum is God.
By that I mean that she wields almighty power over your existence and her neurotic tendencies or disdain for clutter or mistrust of dogs are scripture and the way she behaves at a family gathering and organizes her food shopping list is your framework for living. At least until you realise that she isn’t God, she’s a person, and people just behave in different ways according to the things that have happened to them.
Gods are fallen and all safety gone: it’s a short performance by Greyscale Theatre Company, currently at Camden People’s Theatre, but it’s also a sentence that makes you go, ‘yeah, erm, how exactly am I supposed to function as a human being if the person I thought knew everything there ever was to know actually is a bit flawed?’
I think that there’s a blog I could write about Gods Are Fallen And All Safety Gone, where I tell you that as soon as it finished I ran outside and rang my mum and told her that I loved her. But I’m not going to write that blog.
I’m not doing that because I think it would sentimentalize what is an extraordinary and complex piece of theatre that bores into your soul and leaves you clutching around for something solid to cling on to.
There are two men pacing around, repeating the same ordinary conversation, about the weather, about an aunt, about making a cup of tea. Except they’re not men, they are mother and daughter. This genderless casting has the effect of removing the baggage of womanhood, the little prejudices that have attached themselves to women and mothers of the years – that they nag and worry and are too emotional, things that end up becoming whimsical personality quirks rather than the products of a complex tapestry of experiences.
But then you can look across to the side of the stage and see a real mother and daughter, who are there throughout, watching, existing side by side, a living, breathing appendix that says ‘this is human history’.
There’s a subtle shift in the mood in each conversation – a sprinkling of tenderness or a bolt of brittle. There’s one line, though, in the final act, delivered with such calm quietness by Scott Turnbull as Annie, that really will pull the rug from under you. It’s the moment that will make you say, ‘shit. Shit. Shit I need to ring my mum’.
But Gods Are Fallen isn’t trying to tell you off for sometimes being a dickhead to your mum. It tells you how inevitable being a dickhead is, and that even when you feel bad about it, you’ll do it again. Because there’s an intricate legacy of damage and foibles and disappointments and vulnerabilities that is spun and sewn through the veins of individuals, and sometimes, inevitably, that spills over and gets into the blood of another generation. Because how could a person be a blank canvas when their life has been coloured by resentments and victories and little regrets and fuck-ups?
What I haven’t been able to shake off from this quiet little punch in the face of a play is an eerie Beckettian sense of not quite ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on’, but that someone else perhaps couldn’t go on but went on for you. That you can’t fix things in your parents’ pasts that made them – and inadvertently you – is a bittersweet and ungraspable realization of sorrow.
Of all the things that I’ve seen recently, this is the one that is following me around. Anyone who has ever had a mum should go and see it.
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