Charlotte Asprey, Daniella Dessa and Katie Clark in Spiked. Image courtesy Félicité du Jeu.
Spiked by Félicité du Jeu – Pleasance Theatre, London
Three women sit in a hospital waiting room while their a secondary school class, brought down by something mysterious, are examined by doctors. Each has a teenager in the treatment room, and no-one will tell them what is going on. Their children may share a school, but they have contrasting backgrounds, attitudes and expectations of their offspring. Félicité du Jeu’s new play for Pepperbox Productions aims to tackle the social issues that divide and unite mothers head on. The three performers also double effectively as each other’s children in flashback scenes, creating characters with admiral ease with no more than a change of hoodie.
Spiked has good intentions and a tightly structured setting. However, du Jeu falls down through showcasing the stereotypes she intends to undermine. Joanna is a neurotic upper-middle class yummy mummy, Karen is a working class single mother, and Rozhin is a Kurdish immigrant. All three behave just as people of their type are supposed to. Joanna wraps her daughter in cotton wool, Karen refuses to tell her daughter who her vanished father is, and Rozhin is insistent on her son’s Kurdish identity. This aspect of the play tells us little about real people, and undermines the character developments that follow as the plot unfolds.
The setting – effectively a hostage situation, with the mothers trapped as something potentially terrible happens to their children – in ingenious and has great potential for escalating tension. However, this is not really the focus for the play. The central plot is used as a medium for spinning narrative threads around each family rather than as the driving device for the action, and this seems a mistake. The play becomes a diffused meditation, and loses its power to demand attention. In this type of situation something always snaps, but Spiked leaves us instead with a shared speech about motherhood, and a soundtrack of recorded interview snippets about women’s fears and ambitions for their kids.
Spiked is at its most effective when staging the relationships between the three teens, and in scenes with their mothers. This is where the play suddenly jumps alive, and the writing sounds like lived experience. Despite the weight of parental expectation, the kids are just trying to get on with it, smoking a bit of dope and trying not to get caught. Their separation from the anxieties of their mothers is entirely natural and little heart-breaking. The play has something to say about the impossible pain of bringing up and letting go of a child. Its tendency to spell everything out wipes away ambiguity, and the play would definitely benefit from leaving more unsaid. This is an intriguing collaboration between women, with all-female cast and creatives, but lacks the subtlety or the focus to deliver the impact it clearly intends.