Growing up is a notoriously troublesome business, but watching your own offspring struggle their way through adolescence into independence is equally as sticky. So says The Ballad of the Apathetic Son and his Narcissistic Mother, an energetic performance piece from mother-son duo Lucy and Raedie, in which the pair put their turbulent relationship under the spotlight through the mediums of dance, song and monologue.
Though the pair share the stage for the vast majority of this breathless hour, direct communication between them is kept to a minimum. Instead, the audience is used as their conduit to express their true emotions and frustrations with one another. In a particularly effective exchange, they imagine what life might be like if Sia (their one point of common interest) was the mother or Maddie Ziegler (her teenage muse) the child. Throughout the performance there’s a palpable tension as the room bridles with the weight of things unsaid – at least to each other.
At certain points, footage of them both is played backwards on the giant screen behind them to reveal chewed-up pieces of paper scrawled with these unspoken sentiments, literally demonstrating the words they’ve been forced to swallow. It’s at these moments that the performance is at its most poignant and those with offspring of their own will surely take away more than others, but the pain and messiness of parenthood is communicated effectively enough for everyone in attendance to be affected to some extent.
Not to say that the piece isn’t without its flaws. In its eagerness to communicate the subject matter, the play sacrifices its own sense of structure and cohesion, resulting in a finished product that’s uncomfortably disorganised at times. Silent vignettes of touching, holding, cradling and wrestling are sometimes held a little too long, and the closing scene meanders haphazardly towards its conclusion. Repetition is also overused throughout, with whole scenes replicated more often than once. The introspective anecdote about Lucy’s own school years is an especially powerful tool that didn’t need quite such a heavy hand in driving it home, suffering rather than benefiting from its reprisal. Indeed, just as Lucy is about to reveal information we haven’t heard before, Raedie launches into an impersonation of the schoolteacher she wronged, which highlights the difficulty that mothers and sons may have in communicating – but also makes it tricky for the audience to fathom exactly what’s being said.
A tightening up of the script and some trimming of its flabby material would leave this a robust and resonating exploration of the mother-son bond – and how painful it is to sever it. As things stand, it’s perhaps a little too guilty of the narcissism in the title, which risks engendering the attendant apathy in the audience.