BWW Interview: Tracy-Ann Oberman Talks MOTHER OF HIM at Park Theatre
BroadwayWorld spoke with Oberman about her upcoming play Mother of Him, which is at Park Theatre from 18 September.
What do you look for when choosing a project?
I do a lot of television, but I love theatre. It's where I started, at the RSC, and I absolutely enjoy it, so theatre is something I try and do as often as possible. The play has to appeal, whether it's a classic or just something I've always wanted to do or a new piece of writing.
When the director Max Lindsay mentioned this play Mother of Him, my heart just sank as soon as I heard the word 'mother' because they're usually the worst parts in anything. But I read it anyway and the play just leapt off the page.
When I found out how old Evan was when he wrote it, it blew my mind that such a young man could write a story with a female perspective and capture it so well. It's just a beautifully written play with a fantastic central character and I felt very committed and passionate about putting it on.
What can you tell us about the play?
The play is about many things. It's about a woman who's a mother of two children and all that it means to be a mother. Without giving too much away, her son has done something absolutely terrible and he's under house arrest. The play focuses on the week leading up to his sentencing.
It's about how you come to terms with what your child has done and it's a kind of analysis of what motherhood is. Do you have to love your child no matter what they do? And because this new version is set in 1998 before social media, you couldn't write your own account of events on Facebook, for example. You were completely at the mercy of how the press told your story, so there's that frustration of not having any control over that. So it's all of these things. It asks many questions.
How would you describe your character Brenda?
She's a strong, professional woman. She's on top of her game, very good at her job, and she's brought up two children on her own and - like all working mothers - she tries to run the house with military precision. But the play is an observation of this woman in crisis. It's based on a real story, but what's so clever about it is the fact that instead of writing it from the perspective of the boy who committed this awful act, it's written from the perspective of the mother.
Representation in theatre is quite rightly a hot topic at the moment. Theatre has created some fantastically strong female roles, but do you feel the representation of Jewish people is something that still needs focus and attention? Was the idea of performing a single Jewish mother a motivating factor for you?
The fact that she's Jewish is irrelevant. She's just a mother. It's not a Jewish play. Representation of Jewish people isn't really on my radar, so it's not a fight I'm particularly passionate about. In an ideal world anyone should be able to play anything as long as it's not stereotypical. Having said that, I suppose that if you're telling a particularly race-driven story, you would ideally cast people that have a connection to that story.
The play focuses on your character and her family being pursued by the media. As someone living in the public eye, did you find yourself drawing on any real life experiences you've had with the press and invasion of privacy?
No. I focus solely on the character and what they would be thinking and feeling. I try and look at the world through their eyes, and whilst my own experiences may inform it, they don't dictate my performance. Brenda doesn't know what it's like to have paparazzi following you, so really my own experiences have little impact on my character.
Mother/child relationships often make for fantastic drama. How would you describe the relationship in Mother of Him?
She has two sons and they're played by fantastic child actors who are really great to work with. I think what's interesting is the main question the play asks, which is 'What is a mother?'. What does it mean to give birth to a son? What are your responsibilities? How can you shape his attitudes towards women?
The fact that the play is based on true events is interesting. Did you have to undertake much research to prepare you for the role?
Yes, into the actual crime that this was based on. The boys were actually older than the characters in the play so it's slightly different, but I did as much research as I could into that family, and also a lot of reading up on mothers who've gone through similar things. Sue Klebold - the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine High School killers - has written a brilliant book called A Mother's Reckoning, which is all about her experiences of being his mother, and that was a really useful read before going into rehearsal.
I've read a lot, I've watched a lot. Myself and the director Max were often sending things we'd found back and forth to one another. There's a documentary called The Family I Had, which Max sent my way, so I had lots to work with.
And how did you find having to adopt a Canadian accent?
It's actually a deceptively difficult accent, but we had a great vocal coach, Edda Sharpe, who came in and was brilliant. It's been really good to master it.
You're also a writer - does that enhance your ability to interpret a script and a character? Or do you try to approach it purely from an acting perspective?
That's an interesting question. I've worked with actors who are also directors, directors who are also writers, and you just bring your own skill sets into the room. I do think as a writer I'm attuned to why things might have been written in a certain way, and I can really appreciate and understand the rhythm of a script, so it has helped in some ways when I approach a text. It's given me an innate appreciation of the skill.
You've performed on a variety of stages, from new writing venues such as Soho Theatre to the National. Any favourites?
Well, one of my favourite spaces is the Chichester Festival Theatre. I love that stage and any time I get a chance to do something there I leap at it. I love a large auditorium that feels intimate. But I've gone from somewhere like that to doing a two-hander at Southwark Playhouse and more recently the [West End] Pinter season. I feel different connections to different theatres. Each one has their own personality. I do also love a small space though so I'm looking forward to playing the Park again.
Do you prefer screen or stage work?
Actually, while I'm doing this play I'll also be filming. I'm doing Afterlife with Ricky Gervais. I do love filming, but when you're on stage you're in charge of your own edit - and I love the immediacy of it.
You're known for both comedy and drama. Does one come more easily than the other?
I don't have a preference. You don't ever go into a comedy thinking it's a comedy. Humour comes out of realness, but I don't have a preference - I just look for the best story and the best part. Comedy comes out of the situation, and comedy and drama are overlapping all the time. That's what's so fascinating about human beings and the situations they find themselves in. It's what makes acting so rich - and why this play is such a great challenge, because on paper it's a very difficult and tragic role, but there are also elements of really dark comedy.
Any particular roles or plays you'd love to do in future?
I'm really keen on playing a female Shylock. I think it's time for there to be a female Shylock and I'm working on making that a reality. I'd really like to go back to the Royal Shakespeare Company. I do love Shakespeare.
I could see you as Lady Macbeth...
Oh God, yes. Make that a thing! I'll tell you something. As I've got older and sort of found who I am, the parts that I'm getting are actually richer and more exciting, and I'm really looking forward to what the future has to offer. I think a lot of actors feel scared about getting to the point where they're playing mothers or grandmothers, but those characters, as this play proves, can be incredibly exciting parts.
Photo Credit: Joseph Sinclair