All About My Mother @ Old Vic, London

cast list
Diana Rigg
Mark Gatiss
Lesley Manville
Colin Morgan
Joanne Froggatt

directed by
Tom Cairns
For many Pedro Almodvar fans, the darkly comic but deeply moving All About My Mother is regarded as his best work. Adapted for the stage by Samuel Adamson, this it is the first time in 20 years the director has given permission for a work to be re-imagined and also his first ever English theatrical production.

Initially the play follows events in the film closely. Manuela takes her son, Esteban, to see a touring production of A Streetcar Named Desire for his 17th birthday. After the show they wait in the rain for Huma Rojas autograph, the actress he most admires. She evades his calls and he gives chase only to be tragically hit by a car and killed.

Grieving, Manuela travels to Barcelona where she tries to locate his father, Lola. She reunites with old friend Agrado, a transsexual prostitute, and they try to find work with the aid of a nun, Sister Rosa, with no success. Manuela sees that Huma is performing again and soon finds herself working as personal assistant to the star.

As you may gather, the plot whips along and establishing the ties between the characters at times becomes a strained process, though intelligent devices, like the recurring appearance of birthday cakes, compensate for this a little. There are also numerous scene changes, the set flipping between homes and hospitals, streets and theatres. Each location is well evoked, with the lighting play a key part in creating the necessary atmosphere, but the constant motion left me feling unsettled.

Adamson has tried to retain the film’s Latin passion in his script and I found the cool, restrained (and rather English) nature of some of the performances at odds with this. As Esteban, Colin Morgan, provides the haunting heart of the play. He posthumously exposes his awkward adolescent desires: to write, to be closer to his mother, to know ‘all about my father’. He emerges from Manuelas memory as a remarkable figure of regret and unfulfilled longings, but Leslie Manvilles controlled Manuela doesnt always allow for a similar connection.

Joanne Froggatt is also frighteningly irritating, her portrayal of Sister Rosa really not coming together. When her character discovers she is pregnant with the child of the transsexual Lola, who has also transmitted the HIV virus to her, she appears to takes in her stride. As a result I found myself struggling to care about her plight. The requisite raw emotion just wasn’t there.

Thankfully, this can’t be said of the pleasingly gaudy, Agrado. Mark Gatisss performance successfully displays an exuberant theatricality. However, a distracting accent and his camp frolicing at times verge on the kind of amateur drag act that Agrado herself would detest. By contrast Dame Diana Rigg is wonderful as the lesbian diva, Huma. She is capable of being both hard, imperious, impenetrable and also utterly vulnerable.

Adamson has taken advantage of the artistic freedom afforded to him and made some intelligent changes which director Tom Cairns executes delightfully. At the end of the play, the women find that they are united by their losses, their wishes, their warm potential for matriarchy. Its a poignant message highlighting the idea of renewal and resilience – a heart-wrenching and heart-warming conclusion to a unique production.

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