One of the most valuable functions of theatre is to offer us a way to explore difficult issues without fear of blame without fear of censure. By creating a fictitious character and charting their path through a tricky situation, we offer a way to gather reactions and opinions without making it personal. However, this approach places a lot of pressure on the playwright to offer a deep, balanced understanding of the issue and nuanced realistic reactions from their characters.
Committed performances to tackle a big issue in an accessible, amusing manner.
The Cat’s Mother gives itself a big job by tackling not one but three issues which, in themselves, could support an hour’s conversation. Ciara and Sinead are set for a weekend of sisterly fun and relaxation. At least that’s what Ciara thinks - Sinead sees it as an opportunity to talk about caring for their Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother and, to really focus the conversation, she’s brought Mam with her, bringing forward the issue of how to deal with a parent who no longer recognises you - is it a case of Ciara stepping up and taking responsibility for the family she seems somewhat ashamed of, or does it call for an all-together darker solution?
In the role of the sisters, Sarah Madden and Eimear O’ Riordan have a convincing chemistry and authentic sibling ease as they bicker and barter their way through who takes responsibility for the care of their aging and ailing Mam. Madden is pleasingly neurotic as the urban professional happily keeping her family life at a distance who is then thrown into complete disarray when it turns up on her doorstop. Meanwhile O’ Riordan has an engaging arc as the sad-sack stay-at-home making her desperate reach for independence and a little life of her own. It’s a nice touch to see the dynamic between the two sisters shift as younger becomes older and vice-versa but also to see them return to childhood habits, singing competitive karaoke during some of the more sombre moments of the play. Ably supporting the two central players is Kate Kennedy as every other character in the play, displaying an impressive ability to shift chameleonically between roles.
Performances aside, however, the play itself feels a little light; the key talking points, dementia, later-life care and the other issues, are present but there are so many conversations to be had in just one hour that it struggles to do anything but a surface analysis, resulting in the characters’ moral choices lacking their full weight and so the drama isn’t sufficient enough to counteract the play’s comedy. The time-limit of the play also enforces a rather speedy conclusion which felt like it rather cheated the audience when wrapping up our emotional journey.
Though The Cat’s Mother is ambitious in the topics it attempts to address, it doesn’t necessarily tackle them in sufficient detail and its chosen resolution feels rather too abrupt to feel satisfactory. This said, it’s a noble attempt, with committed performances to tackle a big issue in an accessible, amusing manner.