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April 3, 2006 | by  | in Theatre |
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Mum’s Choir

The sad fact in this globalized, modern world is that families (especially grown-up families) spend very little quality time together and are only brought together by momentous celebrations, usually weddings and funerals. For what is a funeral if it’s not a celebration? While it fulfils a number of other roles, be they of religious significance or simply to give those of us left behind a time to grieve, a funeral is first and foremost a time to celebrate a life well lived. Thankfully, Mum’s Choir is such a celebration. The play begins with a dimly lit stage and a frail old woman shutting up her house for the last time. In darkness, the audience eventually becomes aware of the dull thud that is a heart losing its grip over life. And then it stops. One after another, each member of the family enters their childhood house deprived of that which made it home, their mother.

The most different thing about Mum’s Choir is the use of music, and while this is not a big surprise considering the show’s name, the particularly different use of singing is something that stands out to the audience. Mum’s Choir is not a musical and neither can it be considered a ‘straight’ play, as the actors burst into song relatively frequently, nor is it a play set to music – but a strange amalgamation of all three: A relatively naturalistic play where the actors just happen to play music and sing. And strangely, it works. All of the music throughout the play comes from the actors, under the masterful instruction of Musical Director Laughton Pattrick, and it is wonderfully enjoyable, heartfelt and, most importantly, true to character. The cast is musically both talented and dynamic, and their performance is crystal clear, despite the lack of any noticeable amplification.

The acting too is one of the plays’ absolute strengths; all of the characters are both believable and loveable despite the fact that they are parochial to the point of stereotype. Dame Kate Harcourt heads this cast (and the family) as the loveable rascal, Aunty Nola. In this role she is an absolute pleasure to watch and often has the younger members of the audience questioning our perceptions of the elderly. Heather Bolton performs admirably as the daughter and devoted mother, while Jeff Kingsford-Brown is completely believable as the family’s borderline outcast son with both the dress and mannerisms of the sleazy used-car salesman. His character is the probably the most complex, a character who lives in Australia, but his emotional arms-length distance from his family severely compromised. Carmel McGlone is a joy to watch as the elder, more dutiful spinster daughter with a healthy fondness for ‘White Ladies’ (Gin, Contreau and Lemon). Lyndee-Jane Rutherford is amazing in her role as the bolshy, heavily pregnant, younger daughter who can be relied upon to lighten up the mood of both the characters and the audience. David McKenzie plays the bossy elder brother and the founder of Mum’s Choir, having been forced to promise to his dying mother that the children will sing Fauré’s ‘Requiem’ at her funeral. McKenzie’s portrayal brings both beautiful depth to the show and a degree of hilarity as he is constantly attempting to goad his family into practising. They are joined for the final act by the extremely talented Jamie McCaskill who plays Matt, the eldest grandson who has rushed home from serving as a cook in the army. He is beautifully tender in jokingly berating his ‘silly Pakeha’ aunts and uncles when conversing with his deceased grandmother.

Mum’s Choir is both a hilarious and extremely moving piece of theatre. I bawled throughout the second half where, after they have brought the body of their mother back to the house, each character – starting with Matt gets to say a tender and intimate good bye to their Mum. This is a beautiful and quintessentially Kiwi play and I really recommend going. Better yet, take your mum and grandma, they will appreciate it.

By Alison Quigan
Directed by Catherine Downes
Downstage 25 March – 29 April

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About the Author ()

HAILING FROM the upper-middle- class hell of Havelock North, Jules is in the final semester of a bachelor’s degree in Trenchermanship (majoring in Gourmandry), is a self-professed Anarcho-Dandy and resides in the Aro Valley. He likes to spend his days pursuing whimsical follies of every sort and his evenings gallivanting through the bars and restaurants of Wellington in search of the perfect wine list. He has unfailingly dedicated his life to the excessive consumption of food and drink (despite having no discernable way of paying for it), and expects to die of simultaneous heart and kidney failure at thirty-nine. His only hope is that very soon people will start to pay him for his opinions (of which he is endowed with aplenty). Jules has a penchant for vintage Oloroso.

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