Mother & Son @ Arts Theatre Cronulla

Verdict: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (reviewed Friday 8 March).

Whether you’re a fan of the ABC classic created by Geoffrey Atherden or are a carer for others, you will enjoy this fresh episode of Mother & Son directed by Neil Moulang in arrangement with David Spicer Productions. The packed house at Arts Theatre Cronulla full of young and old attested to the broad appeal of this series which first aired on Australian television in 1984, with a reboot currently showing on ABC iview. True to the demographic of multicultural Australia, and as seen in the new series, this production harnesses the power of diverse casting, including a character in a call centre who hails all the way from Mumbai.

Maggie Beare, the frail and elderly mother with early signs of dementia was originally played by legendary Ruth Cracknell; so good was Cracknell in the role that for years afterwards people would stop her in shopping centres and ask if “she was feeling alright, dear.” In this stage version we see Lynda Leavers demonstrating the conniving mischievousness that made the character of Maggie Beare so gold.

David Wrightson is Maggie’s grown son Arthur Beare, originally played by Garry McDonald in the TV series. In real life McDonald has freely spoken about suffering from anxiety and depression and always thought the rapturous applause at publicity appearances was mostly for his co-star, Ruth Cracknell. McDonald had a fair point; Maggie Beare is the more interesting and sympathetic character, the antagonist, the petulant villain, the restive house-bound captive, the one we resent for the life of servitude and dependency she imposes upon Arthur for simply growing old and forgetful. A reality of old age that disturbs us all. This show balances that tension quite well, presenting two conflicting desires – Maggie wants to read to children at the local library, to have some sort of meaningful existence beyond her widowed life, yet Arthur insists she remain completely house-bound for her safety while he struggles to find a way to go on a holiday with his new girlfriend, Anita (played by Pattara Bamroongpruk). Anita takes a real shine to Maggie and completely empathises with her. Wrightson as Arthur plays off these dynamics quite well, being the ordinary good guy who loves his mum and wants to protect her, but sometimes feels like the bad guy too when he has to resort to manipulation to get what he wants.

Making his theatre debut is Adrian Immarrata in the role of Robert, Arthur’s younger brother and a dentist (originally played by Henri Szeps), one of the sleaziest and most entitled rich bastards to ever appear on Aussie TV. Immarrata melds into the oily two-faced role seamlessly, charming his mother whilst cheating on Liz. Immarrata also performs an accented voiceover with comedic aplomb (as a call centre agent from Mumbai).

There are several voiceovers in the show, mostly spam callers trying to scam Maggie into sharing her credit card details. The fact that she is old, lonely and ‘just wants to talk to someone’ makes her the perfect target. This nod to modern technology and cyber-crime contrasts nicely against a backdrop of charmingly quaint 1950s aesthetics, including a vintage fridge and floral upholstery that give Maggie her place of home, not something she is easily prepared to give up. Maggie may be, in her words, ‘a silly old mum’ who barely remembers names and nearly burns the house down, but she’s sharp as a tack when realising something is off, such as when her own sons are trying to deceive her. You can practically hear the audience groaning their disgust in this cautionary tale of modern times!

Stagecraft and props gives tactility to Maggie’s bleak existence; she only ever sees her grandkids on an iPad, whilst a cherished toy from Arthur’s childhood is confiscated because ‘he’s been a very naughty boy’. An abundance of smoke emanating from the oven when she forgets something provides both thrilling drama and grave concern.

The palette of colours gives an air of cheerfulness and stoic pride, especially the female characters in their bright floral tunics and dresses, even if they are old (Maggie), suffering a cheating husband (Liz) or caring for a disabled sibling (Anita). What could be a drab and depressing story centres instead around love, compromise and family values.

The audience thoroughly enjoyed this engaging and laugh-out-loud production, with an easy-to-follow narrative that is comical yet all too scarily familiar. As the director shared in the program notes: “…we want you to love OUR production, OUR characters, OUR interpretation of the script, not a cloned copy of the TV series.”

Yes Neil, we definitely do!

Mother & Son is currently playing at Arts Theatre in Cronulla til 23 March 2024. For tickets and showtimes, go to

Images: Supplied

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