A play about a self-help circle can usually guarantee some laughs at the expense of positive-thinking homilies and cliches. Katie Redford’s funny-sad drama comes in the form of a motivational group, each scene a new meeting. It is the brainchild of Co-op worker, Gavi (Max Hastings), convening Go Get It! from his Nottingham garage for colleagues who share his dream of self-improvement.
Directed by Piers Black, there are some gentle laughs as Gavi delivers his fridge-magnet wisdom on seizing the day and reaching for new goals. But the turnout of two – a mother and daughter – sets up a spiky dynamic which becomes the basis for a play with serious underlying issues around mental illness in families and complicated love between mothers and children.
Gavi himself is caring for his seriously ill mum, though we get rather too limited information about that relationship. Instead, the focus is on Dawn (Jennifer Daley), a mother with a history of depression, and Jen (Olivia Sweeney), her stroppy twentysomething daughter who is having an unhealthy on-off relationship with a married man.
Redford’s play has a watchable, episodic-TV quality, with some amusing dialogue and interesting narrative turns. But on its opening night, the early part of the production had halting and underpowered performances until the play was temporarily stopped altogether due to a sick audience member requiring an ambulance. It was later resumed, and – heroically – the actors came back with more energy.
Hastings starts out in a swirl of positivity, writing out tasks and goals with chalk across the walls. It does not take long for us to figure out that this attitude is confected and that he is harbouring unspoken pain. His emotionally withheld performance is reminiscent of Paul Mescal’s in the TV adaptation of Normal People in its minimalism and sustained pauses, but these are perhaps better suited to screen closeups.
Sweeney and Daley have bare-faced antagonism in their mother-daughter relationship, but the atmosphere does not feel charged enough, although Sweeney as the begrudging daughter stands out for her strong performance.
The subject of mental health and its distorting effects on family relationships is an important one, but the central confrontation is not nearly as moving as its equivalent in Sian Carter’s recent debut, Running With Lions, also about mental illness within families. Here, it feels too neatly resolved, and not passionate or emotionally penetrating enough. The most moving moments are between Gavi and Jen, in their undertow of attraction, not mother and daughter.
But there is some good writing by Redford, and despite the sense that some performances could be further developed, these characters tug at our heartstrings. By the end, the play reveals itself to have a sweet, romantic centre.