A terrific cast, strong production values and lashings of real heart set Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life apart from similar “girls night out” revuesicals.
Completing the rarely achieved task of writing the book, music and lyrics, Amity Dry displays keen insight and strong empathy for a range of characters at differing points of motherhood. Wisely keeping the action light on book scenes and heavy on songs, Dry provides just enough text to link the four characters in a story arc, providing a connection and context for the scenarios rather than just a set of scenes and songs.
The combination of intelligent songs and excellent performers creates abundant laugh-out-loud moments as the audience recognises and appreciates the characters’ situations. Given the potentially frothy nature of such entertainment, Dry bravely includes serious emotional moments that address some rarely spoken truths behind motherhood. The risk pays off with a deeper, more involving show that provides food for thought in addition to all the laughs.
Director David Lampard keeps the action pacy and upbeat, and helps the cast provide clear characterisation for the four distinct characters they play. Lampard also provides the attractive and functional design, which includes an impressive modular rear unit that can be reconfigured to represent any number of homes and locations. Each having a signature colour, the four women have multiple costume changes as the story progresses.
Mark Simeon Ferguson provides light rock arrangements of the score, which is prerecorded by (uncredited) musicians for the tour. In the absence of a conductor, the timing is extremely well synchronised. The four performers are all excellent singers, and sound particularly good together, their voices blending beautifully in the harmonies of the company songs.
Clearly a generous writer, Dry has not simply fashioned the show as a star vehicle for herself. The spotlight is shared between the four characters, who each have dilemmas that arise as the story progresses. Dry plays Kate, a new mother whose trip to Paris is derailed by an unexpected pregnancy. Dry sings the gorgeous lullaby “The Day I Was Chosen” to her newborn baby as they bond. Through comparisons to other mothers, Dry explores the truth behind the façade of the easy perfection of motherhood.
In a winningly warm performance, Nikki Aitken practically steals the show as frazzled mother of three Bec, who seems to be only staying sane thanks to her resilient sense of humour. Aitken is able to flip from broad comedy to tender pathos in a heartbeat, and can belt a big tune or sweetly sing a ballad with equal flair. Aitken scores plenty of laughs, having the audience on her side through all her character’s tribulations.
Rachel McCall is bride-to-be Jessie, who turns into quite a “Bridezilla” with her wedding planning and wedding app dependency. The only character not to have children, Jessie portrays the divide between friends who do not have firsthand understanding of the demands of parenting. McCall and Aitken sing a very funny duet contrasting the sex life of a newlywed and a mother of three.
Susan Ferguson is Lily, successful mother of slightly older children. Lily is a slightly underwritten role, resulting in a lack of impact when her marriage falls apart in act two. Ferguson nonetheless gives it her all in a perky, focused performance.
Mother, Wife and the Complicated Life plays at Chapel off Chapel, Melbourne until 13 September before continuing its national tour.