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Midden, by Morna Regan

The dysfunctional family has become a major topic for many writers during the last fifty years. Even the word, rarely used in the past, is now a 21st century regular.

Published on May 30th 2006.


Midden, by Morna Regan

The dysfunctional family has become a major topic for many writers during the last fifty years. Even the word, rarely used in the past, is now a 21st century regular. Television and Film have given us, amongst many others productions, The Royal Tennenbaums, Arrested Development, Desperate Housewives, The Osbournes and the The Royle Family. Theatre has mined extensively in the same area for longer and quite consistently, be it Separate Tables, Betrayal, Death of a Salesman, or Festen, to mention a few.

The deep dark secrets of family and the truths that can never be spoken; all at once, an outpouring of happenings which have beset people forever, but only now finding a voice in “polite“ society.

Such is the raw material for this fine Morna Regan play. An all female cast of five rake the coals of everyman’s life (in a Derry setting), coming to terms with so many things left unsaid for so long.

The grandmother, Dophie (with progressive Alzheimer’s disease) in rare moments of lucidity tells of things deeply buried in her pysche and so long left unsaid. Her daughter Ma is struggling to come to terms with her mothers illness. She distances herself from her own daughters whilst becoming obsessed with the small nest egg to be saved for a rainy day. In reality it is this obsession which destroys so many relationships, so many futures - even lives. Money - a dreadful legacy .

And then there are Ruth and Aileen ( Ma’s daughters); the former having built a very successful design business in the States returning to Derry with her fellow émigré Mabs, the latter struggling to live at home and to make a success of her boyfriend’s business, all sublimated in an external appearance of bonhomie. For Aileen repression lies just beneath the surface. A midden describes this mess well.

Things get worse. Grandma Dophie and daughter Ma open the hidden door to the concealed past, which might have better remained hidden. The already tense relationships within the family deteriorate further.

Maybe the message is that dysfunctionality is the norm in all families. No apparent tranquillity is really anything more than surface gloss and mess is the ordinary course of things.

Ms Regan concludes her exploration with the sad realisation that money is at the root of all this. Money that has never been used, money that has caused so much unhappiness, money that has blighted the lives of everyone it has touched. In this examination of human motives it is money which has destroyed everything.

Until June 10th at Oldham Coliseum Theatre. Box Office 0161 624 2829 www.coliseum.org.uk

Well directed by Natalie Wilson, with an excellent set designed by Emma Donovan, both enhance the drama onstage and provide a setting which allows the audience to become more involved with the human dilemmas being played out.

An excellent cast develop these sharply defined characters and are given sufficient opportunity to express their differing perspectives on life generally . Valerie Lilley is a wonderful Dophie. Vulnerable, pathetic and believable; one feels despair at her truncated view of the world.

Gemma Craven is a marvellous Ma, hiding behind a façade of blunt, almost unfeeling inpenetrability and Melanie MacHugh as the newly returned Ruth, the catalyst for this sad reunion, gives added pathos to this family get together.

Emma Kearney as Mabs and Siobhan Mc Sweeney as Aileen contribute much to the totality of this play.

This is serious stuff. It explores the family. It reaches pessimistic conclusions. By highlighting money with all its mundane virtues as the fulcrum for all this dysfunctionality it raises the play to a higher consciousnesss. No great flaws here, no genius has lost his way, just the everyday misery of money and its real worth.

The people of Oldham have a real treat before them with this production. Midden is a play of high calibre, well produced, directed and acted.

Richard Burbage
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