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The Ballad of the Apathetic Son and His Narcissistic Mother

"joyous, tenderly absurd and uncontained"

Audrey review: Mother and son go head-to-head in an affecting and unique work of theatre.

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Company: 21Common (UK)
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The Ballad of the Apathetic Son and His Narcissistic Mother

Date: 4 Sep 2019

When a performer’s wardrobe includes a flesh-coloured, full-body leotard, you know the show is going to be a bold one.

Now add the fact that this apparel is worn by a real-life mother and son, playing the fierce love and vexations of their changing relationship through the motifs of pop star Sia and Chandelier-dancer Maddie Ziegler, and there is no second-guessing that something extraordinary is afoot.

The apathetic son of the play’s title is Raedie.

Raedie is 16: that age of volatility and truculent rebellion which all parents fear. His hair is floppy, his slouch pronounced. His gaze is as vacant as the young protagonist in Snowtown.

The narcissistic mother is Lucy.

Her favourite TV show, Raedie mocks in a character switch, is Al Jazeera news. As Raedie develops into a man, the simple relationship they shared not too long ago is being wrenched apart and violently reconfigured. Lucy will look at her son and see her chubby two-year-old, then her all-curious eight-year-old, then the flat careless eyes of a teenager, who stays in his room and won’t study for exams.

Amid the chaos is one continuity: a shared love of one iconic Australian singer. So, to better understand each other, they wear her skin. Near-naked and bewigged in a two-tone bob, together they hurl themselves across the stage and at each other, mimicking the pop star’s fluid, confrontingly figurative and almost clownishly abstract choreography. They play-wrestle each other, ignore and accept their self-expressions, learn how to fit into each another anew.

When the emotional intensities pitches, the music thunders back. Coloured lights drench and stab at their bodies.

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The physicality in this Sydney Fringe standout is joyous, tenderly absurd and uncontained. Lucy is at least a head shorter than her gangling son, but we see her pick him up as he clutches her like a two-year-old who has just reached up for a hug. They’re far from professional dancers, but their unpolished movements make them vulnerable and real.

In their struggle to hold onto each other, they realise what it is about Sia’s music which speaks to them both, and an understanding is worked out.

On the back wall of the small theatre, a silent recording will sometimes roll. We’ll see the two Sia lookalikes on it, nonchalantly chewing what you first assume to be gum. Then out of their mouths will pop slips of paper, with statements like “she always wears armour”. Then, these intimate knowledges are gulped back in.

The Ballad of the Apathetic Son and His Narcissistic Mother arrives in Australia from Scotland, where it found acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe. Innovative, affecting and with a breed of humour all to itself, it will be making its strangely astonishing explosions till Saturday at the Old 505, Newtown.

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