Pitched as a play about motherhood, Spiked is more than meets the eye. The play, produced by Pepperbox Production, sees three mothers meet in a hospital waiting room as they speculate over what could possibly have rendered an entire class of year 10 students, including their children, “indisposed”. Written by Félicité du Jeu, directed by Gemma Kerr with set design by Cecilie Gravesen, the play runs at Pleasance London until 28th April 2018.
The mothers meet for the first time in a claustrophobic waiting room, but it’s by no means the first time that they have encountered one and other or their children. Their previous meetings and interactions may have only been brief but they were long enough for each of them to feel as though they have sussed each other out. As they wait to discover what has brought them all together, the mothers bond and bicker, show compassion and condescension, judge and are judged.
There are just six speaking characters in Spiked (plus the formidable Alan), all of who are played by three actresses. Charlotte Asprey plays Joanna, an overbearing worrier from Richmond who suffocates her daughter Jemima, who ironically has a serious case of asthma. Daniella Dessa plays Karen, the working class, single mother to Polly, the curious birthday girl who longs to know where she comes from. The most interesting performance comes from Katie Clark, who plays Rozhin, an immigrant who’s Kurdish pride and cultural anecdotes only irritate her son Hemin who identifies as British.
Writer du Jeu draws on snide phrases like “you lot” and “people like them” to capture the realities of some of the social, economic and racial tensions facing communities in the UK. Without their children to fuss over, the women seek to blame someone for the spiking crisis, first the immigrant, then the single mother and then the well-off, overbearing mother. Karen, Rozhin and Joanna all have understandable perspectives, but they fail to understand each others.
While they wait for news clever transitions in the sound, lighting and projection allow enough time for the actresses to transform into the next generation as they re-enact previous conversations with their children. In doing so we begin to understand the relationships the mothers want to have with their children and the relationships that they actually have. The costumes, designed by Claire Finlay-Thomas, are convincing and the costume changes are well choreographed, but there are rather a lot of them. Coats and blazers are changed so often that by the time it came to putting my own coat on at the end of the show I felt a little exhausted.
Clark’s performance of Rozhin undeniably steals the show. Partly because her character is so well placed between two women who seem to miss the point. For example, when Karen says “people like them,” in reference to Rozhin’s race, Joanna understands “them” as being “disadvantaged”. Clark delivers a moving and compelling monologue that highlights the divided and difference-obsessed environment immigrants and their children can’t escape from. Her passionate delivery conveys more than the speech itself.
The end of the play focuses back on the motivations of mothers, with cheesy testimonials that are surprisingly poignant. This perhaps overshadows the social, political and economic messages that the play champions and satires throughout. It’s a hard-hitting play that wants to be about motherhood, but that can’t help being about so much more.
Spiked is playing Pleasance London until 28th April 2018. For more information and tickets, see https://www.pleasance.co.uk/.