Mother – Daniel Keene and the radical refusal of judgement. (Theatre Review)


Belvoir theatre, January 24 – February 11.

You can grab your tickets here.

Images by Brett Boardman

There is a time with all passions when they are merely fatalities, when they drag their victim down with the weight of their folly and then again later when they are ‘spiritualized.’ Traditionally we have been at war with our passions because of the folly inherent in hot headedness. This tradition comes most thoroughly through Christianity. No where is our flawed morality more on display than in Daniel Keene’s Mother, currently on at The Belvoir Theatre in Sydney. Just as the advice to the common man is to pluck out an offending eye, so the eradication of offending passions leads only to castration. This hostility, the chasm between the weak willed (those who can’t consider independent restraint) and the offending party (those who are unrestrained) is what we witness playing out on the bodies of the homeless on our streets. We are rejecting a piece of ourselves, and take a sleazy comfort in ideology over action: “the poor you always have with you,” “they will be saved in heaven,” “the government should save them,” “they should save themselves,” we tell ourselves. It is our own inability to refuse stimulus that judges and condemns our homeless people as somehow, in some way, bringing their misfortune upon themselves. As if we are in control of our good fortune.

Radical hostility, mortal hostility towards sensuality (and this includes those who live on our streets) is always a thought provoking symptom: it justifies making certain presumptions about one who is excessive. This hostility reaches its height when the others nature is no longer willing to be conditioned by any ‘cure’ toward the renunciation of their particular devil. Surely what we despise most about the homeless is their wanton refusal to live like us? The thing they refuse to do (action they refuse to take) that will repair all their troubles. Noni Hazlehurst’s Christie constantly stands for her dignity. She is because she is. She drinks, and she neglects, but she is. It is her stand for herself that is the most repugnant thing to those of us seeking a certain reformation from her. The spiritualization of sensuality is called love, and nothing is as mythologically powerful as a mother’s love. Love is the great triumph over all ideology. Inside this is a clear understanding of the value of having enemies, or talisman of our discomfort. One is fruitful only at the cost of being rich in contradictions. One remains young only on condition that the soul does not relax and does not long for peace. Nothing inspires less than the “moral cow” or the “fat contentment of a good conscience.” (Nietzsche)

So we sit, in our comfortable chairs, and watch as Noni Hazlehurst brings Daniel Keene’s unrepentant sinner into our midst. Some of us sleep, some of us cry, some of us give generously to the next homeless person we meet – whatever it takes to escape the confrontation of such an overwhelming real. We witness the immortal unreason of a human being who refuses their own happiness. Christie refuses certain actions and she instinctively shrinks from other actions that will provide her with what she wants. For our society, her virtue is the consequence of these actions and her reward. We look at her and claim, she perishes through vice and the luxury of no work. Yet Daniel Keene’s reasons explains when a person is perishing, degenerating physiologically, vice and the luxury of inactivity follow. We become ill and can no longer fight off illness after we begin to fade. We look at political parties and think an action heralds their failure, but the truth is the party which makes such errors has already failed because it is no longer secure in its instincts. Errors are the consequence of the degeneration of instinct. Christie cannot save herself, because she won’t grovel and crawl to those who demand it. She will not prematurely die.

Our judgement upon the homeless is always a religious one. It is the same as us watching a row boat on the river and assuming the boat moves because of the mystical ritual of the oarsman who summons the great spirit that drives the boat rather than the action of rowing moves the boat through water. In every way we seek cause for their plight, run in terror from the idea that we might end up the same. We feel that this person has called condemnation upon themselves, and that we are in our situation because we have not. “What did you do?” Is always on our lips.

Daniel Keene writes a perfect character for Noni Hazlehurst who brings the role of Christie to vibrant life. The production is seventy minutes long but races by as the audience sit spellbound by the performance. Mother reaches into the heart and tears at us, jerking us into our Christian histories (actual or collective) and forcing us onto a rollercoaster of shame, joy, embarrassment and desperate longing for change. The audience finds they want to protect, comfort and above all else, help Christie, but even this longing is born of our past sins. Just as there is no avoiding it, no long lasting good can come from it. Daniel Keene knows this and takes strength from not allowing the audience any form of relief. This production is directed by Matt Scholten, who achieves perfect symmetry of sensations as the production progresses. Tom Willis lighting, Darius Kedros’ exquisite sound and Kat Chan’s set, costume and props coalesce flawlessly to form a rhapsodic homage to the proud character.

Mother is a beautiful production with a great deal to say to the more well heeled of us in society. It is a joy to spend an hour watching Noni Hazlehurst and seeing ourselves.