Review: ★★★★★ The Cat’s Mother, King’s Head Theatre

Four beige poufs of varying sizes sit on the stage at the King’s Head Theatre, like a tastefully arranged Ikea peace corner. They look a little bit like cat beds, an impression reinforced as the performers knead them into various shapes and situations: an air-bed, a park bench, and the couch of a holistic energy healer. These squishy forms are the entire set, and this ingenious and simple design by Ciara Murnane foreshadows the rest of this wonderful, slick and classy production.

The writing is superb: both nuanced and very funny, Erica Murray tackles a gravely difficult and emotionally fraught topic with a levity and style that never fails to do justice to the subject matter. The play centres around the two sisters Ciara and Sinead, a life-changing decision and an elderly cat called Muggins – delightfully rendered in this production with a cat basket and some fetching miaows. Part of the charm of this play is the element of surprise, so no more of the plot shall be given away in this review: suffice to say it was so gripping that I barely wrote a single sentence in my notebook, I was so enthralled. There was only one line in the whole production that seemed to strike the wrong note: at the end of the scene with the holistic energy healer, a scene both funny and poignant, there was an unnecessary gag about paying a tip with sexual favours. This is literally the only line that stood out as less than perfect, and it doesn’t feature in the Samuel French version of the script, which was available for purchase after the show and which I will read and re-read endlessly. Murray creates a vivid range of characters and situations in her writing, all of whom were brought to life with pin-sharp precision by the extremely talented cast.

We are first introduced  to Ciara, played in this production by Sarah Madden, and Sinead, played by Eimear O’Riordan. Both performers capture the nuances of their characters perfectly, from the urbane neurosis of Ciara to the homely selflessness of Sinead. Their relationship is gorgeous and rich, with vacillations of power dynamics and evident deep connection and love portrayed so naturally it really seems as though these two performers are sisters. A particularly excellent moment comes in a serenade to Muggins, which starts with Sinead singing “In The Arms of the Angel” softly into the cat basket before she is joined in gentle harmony by Ciara. It’s very touching, yet as the song comes to its conclusion the situation becomes exquisitely farcical as each sister attempts to out-do the other with Mariah Carey-esque flourishes and trills. Both Madden and O’Riordan work impeccably with the light and the shade in this production, bringing comedy and lightness whilst being capable of honest emotional depths. They bring a sense of reality to a plot that could spiral off into the realms of the unhinged, and are delightful to watch.

But what of the holistic energy healer? This, and several other absolute treats, are brought by the fantastic Kate Kennedy, who performs all other roles in this production. We are first introduced to her as a wonderfully sardonic Pret employee, the ludicrously named Marjorie, from whom Kennedy effortlessly moves to a brusque personal trainer, a gently sarcastic A&E doctor, a truly exceptional zoo keeper, an enthusiastic young lawyer and finally the holistic energy healer. Each character is a fully fleshed-out human being, and each is so completely different that it could have been six different actors on stage. An exceptional and chameleonic performance, both vocally and physically, which lifts this play from the usual realms of the two-hander into something fresher, more exciting and much, much more fun.

This is a diamond of a show, premiering at the Underbelly as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival on 2nd August 2018. Be there to say you saw it first.

Esme Mahoney

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