Topless Mum

Tricycle Theatre, London

Ron Hutchinson has been fighting the British establishment a long time now. Topless Mum, his latest, about press cynicism and manipulation is, however, quite reminiscent of an earlier play, Rat in the Skull (1984) in which he pitted the ideologies of a Protestant RUC officer and a Catholic terrorist suspect against each other. A fierce dialectical debate, it showed Hutchinson’s remarkable ability to get inside the head of both protagonists and the singular symbiosis of their relationship.

In Topless Mum – half war indictment, half detective story – Hutchinson gets right inside the head of both army establishment and `squaddie’ at the same time as looking askance at the workings and values of our tabloid press.

Interestingly, Hutchinson is less successful delving inside the journalist head than he is the army’s. Steve Thompson’s media satire Damages four years ago at the Bush Theatre was certainly deadlier and funnier. Hutchinson’s Topless Mum is altogether more serious. Despite an overly schematic and unconvincing plot, however, ultimately it packs a terrific, sobering punch by the close.

A young journalist, Annie (Emma Lowndes) is called to the home of a young, soldier, Barry (Alistair Wilkinson), recently returned from Afghanistan, horribly injured. He and his wife, Tiffany, have something to sell: pictures on his mobile of the apparent torture and abuse of an Afghani prisoner. Annie duly reports this to her (inevitably) hard-nosed Scottish editor, Kyle (Giles Fagan). The photo is printed, lawyers summoned, Barry’s army pal, Mitch (Jason Deer) cross-questioned.

Hutchinson then unpicks this scenario to show newspaper (the `topless mum’ incident is really a bit of an add-on), army lawyer, Kennedy (a cool, sardonic Sylvestra le Touzel), Barry and Tiffany in a rubric cube of changing sides and stories before an even darker tale emerges. If truth is the first casualty of war, Barry and his pals (memorably described by Kyle as `the scum of the earth’). Hutchinson suggests, are the embodiment of a British nation terminally scarred.

Clearly based on a true incident – the Daily Mirror-Piers Morgan fake photo episode – Caroline Hunt’s fine, controlled production gives Hutchinson’s words biting edge and ratcheting tension leading up to its final, devastating climax.

Cast: Alistair Wilkinson, Emma Lowndes, Louise Kempton, Giles Fagan, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Jason Deer.

Director: Caroline Hunt.

Designer: Conor Murphy.

Sound Designer: John O’Hara.

Video Designer: Jack Phelan

LX Designer: Mark Howland

Singer: Katie Sobey

Line Producer: Katie Keeler, Tanuja Amarasuriya

Topless Mum was premiered at the Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol in 2007 and has seen been reworked.

This new version is presented by Tobacco Factory Productions and Imagineer Productions in association with the Tricycle Theatre.

This review first published in Reviewsgate, June 2008