Actress, writer and podcast host, Tracy-Ann Oberman (who you may recognise from Friday Night Dinner and Toast of London) is currently starring in Mother of Him at London’s Park Theatre.
Inspired by real life events, Tracy-Ann plays Brenda, a single mother living in Toronto whose family is torn apart when her eldest son is accused of a terrible crime. We caught up with her between rehearsals to discuss the thought-provoking play.
What drew you to this project and the character of Brenda in particular?
‘Normally the role of the mother is the worst part in anything – be it stage, big screen, or TV. When the director, Max Lindsay, asked me to look at the play my heart sank a little at the title, Mother Of Him. But when I read it I was blown away at what a complex, interesting, multi-layered part Brenda is. That the playwright, Evan Placey, wrote it in his twenties, made it even more impressive. The play is based on a friend of his who was guilty of a terrible act, but it’s told through the prism of the mother’s experience.’
What kind of mother is Brenda?
‘Brenda is a single mother of two boys. She’s a successful architect, micromanager, image conscious and doing a really good job of “having it all”. Until her elder son turns himself into the police for a truly heinous crime. The play focuses on the eight days that her son is under house arrest, with the media camped on her doorstep and all the focus on her role as a mother and her responsibility for her son’s actions. She’s a tiger mum who realises that her idea of being a mother is to be challenged to the core.’
As the mother of a teenager were there any elements of the play that particularly resonated with you?
‘My own daughter is a tween and is nothing like the boys in the play, except for the fact that getting her out of bed in the morning is hard! But I can see that as our children grow we cannot control the outcomes of who they turn out to be. The play says “hold on as tight as you can but one way or another they slip away”. That’s the truth isn’t it? It’s exciting and terrifying. As a mum I’m much more laid back than Brenda.’
Should we hold parents responsible for everything their children do? Where is the line?
‘Evan was writing this play as the media were scrutinising Kate McCann after her daughter Madeline disappeared. He was horrified at the barrage of accusation. How sad did she look? How thin she had got? Did she look guilty? Gerry, her husband, didn’t get the same level of attack or attention. The play asks the question “what is a mother, what’s expected of mothers”? I went into this thinking that everything stems from the home, that parents are responsible for how their children turn out. Then I researched mothers of children who had committed terrible crimes and my feelings changed. Especially reading and listening to Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the Columbine School massacre perpetrators, who has spent her life trying to understand how her sweet, warm, loving, generous son turned (seemingly) overnight into a mass murderer.’
Do you think that representations of motherhood on stage and on screen are evolving?
‘I think there is definitely a change in the way women are being presented. I find the parts I’m playing now are much better and interestingly written. The woman is not just there to prop up the man’s story. I’m on a WhatsApp friendship group with some of the sexiest, most glamorous, well-known famous women – all mammas all brilliant and all with kids under 15. We are often laughing at the appalling parts sent our way. We always say, “Where are our lives and experiences shown on screen? Successful sexy intelligent mothers who lead full lives and have stories to tell!” I think they’re coming though, for example there is a play about to open at The Kiln theatre in North London where the main parts are a mother and grandmother trying to cover up the child’s deeds. A sea change is coming!’
What do you look for when you read a script?
‘Believable story. Nuance. I don’t care how small the part is – it’s about the project as a whole. I do a lot of comedy but also drama. Both are the same in my opinion. Humour in the darkest moments and a hint of tragedy in all comedy. I never went into this business to be “famous”, I just wanted to do good varied and interesting work.’
See Tracy-Ann in Mother of Him at the Park Theatre, London until 26 October. For tickets visit parktheatre.co.uk