Tracy Ann Oberman: 'This play is an amazing observation of a woman in crisis'
PUBLISHED: 09:48 13 September 2019
Brenda Kapowitz is living any parent's absolute worst nightmare. A single mother to Matthew and Jason, she's doing her best to maintain a career and hold her fragile family life together in the face of intense media scrutiny and a colossal feeling of guilt. Matthew is, after all, under house-arrest on suspicion of committing a heinous act.
Tracy Ann Oberman is about to assume the role of Brenda at Park Theatre next week, as Evan Placey's play, Mother of Him, arrives for a four-week run. When director Max Lindsay approached Oberman about taking the lead role, she was sceptical at first.
"I saw the word 'mother' and my heart sank, because normally mothers are the worst parts in any play, or film, or television," she says.
"[But] I went away and read the script, and thought 'yeah, wow. That's incredible.' When I found out how old Evan Placey was when he wrote it , it blew my mind. It was such an amazing observation of a woman in crisis, [asking] what does it mean to be a mother, and the way that the press portray single mothers."
Placey wrote Mother of Him in 2010 - winning the King's Cross Award for New Writing and Canada's RBC National Playwriting Competition for his troubles - and Park Theatre's adaption will be a new, updated version of his story.
"The premise of the play is: as a mother, what is your responsibility when your child does something absolutely terrible?," continues Oberman.
"The play was based on a true story of one of Evan's friends, who was put under house-arrest pending sentencing. Mother of Him is fast, and it's got a dry wit to it. I think it's moving. There's an amazing female character [and] it's set in 1998 so it's pre-social media - it's not even like she has a Facebook page where she can put her own story out there. She's completely beholden to the press.
"There are some great observations about families, mothers, children, working women, love and forgiveness. It's a really profound piece."
Oberman is known for her roles both on screen (including EastEnders, Friday Night Dinner and Toast of London) and on stage, with appearances in Fiddler on the Roof at Chichester's Festival Theatre and Pack of Lies at the Chocolate Factory in Southwark to her name over the past two years.
Given the dark subject matter of her latest project, it's a surprise to hear that Mother of Him involves some dry wit.
"Weirdly, there is," she says. "We have two young child actors who are great. There's so much humour out of them. It's a little slice of family life - with all its weirdness and quirks - that just have this great big elephant that's sitting in the room.
"The dialogue is witty. I'm not saying it's a barrel of laughs, but even in the darkest hours there is a certain gallows humour to everything. People associate me with humour, I've had a few messages and tweets saying 'that poster doesn't look very funny!' it's not an out-and-out comedy, but there's humour even in the darkest tragedy."
Oberman is a mother to a 13-year-old daughter herself, but that's where her similarities with the character of Brenda end.
"She's so different to me. Put it this way: I did the lines with my mum the other day, and all the way she kept saying: 'well why does she [Brenda] react like that? She's meant to be a mother!' I kept saying to her: 'well what does it mean to be a mother.' My mum rang me the next morning and said: 'I haven't stopped thinking about that bloody play, it's really got under my skin!"
Although Oberman's schedule for the next month is tied up with appearances at Park Theatre (the show runs until October 26), the 53-year-old also has her hands full with her new podcast, Trolled, which she'll perform live at the London Podcast Festival alongside Countdown's Rachel Riley and Nick Cohen, the Guardian journalist, this Sunday (September 15).
The podcast has grown rapidly in a short period of time. "I put a few feelers out on Twitter and ended up with these fantastic people like Gary Lineker talking about being trolled online," she says.
"[It's about] celebrities who had a strong opinion, put their head above the parapet, and were trolled for it - and how each of those people have dealt with it.
"There are bullies who can hide behind keyboards, and you have to find strength to stand up to it. It's been a real life lesson. Things are changing around online abuse, I think there will be legislation that says you can't hide anonymously anymore. I'm sure that there will be more controls.
"I'm really touched that people have found it so emboldening. I've had a lot of people say: 'listening to Janey [Godley], David Baddiel or Al Murray, it gave me confidence to go in to work and tell the bloke who was harassing me to shut up.'"
Mother of Him runs at Park Theatre from September 18 to October 26. For more details and tickets, click here.