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What Happened to Poor Mum?

by on 22 March 2020

What Happened to Poor Mum?

(Spoiler: She went to the theatre.)

A cogitation by Mark Aspen

Mothering Sunday has been a day of celebration ever since the Middle Ages. Here’s the tradition:   the fourth Sunday in Lent is the day to go “a-mothering”, which originally meant going back to the church where you were baptised. Since you might well find your own mother there, the idea of Mothering Sunday soon transferred to dear ol’ mum herself. Mothering Sunday is also exactly half-way through Lent, so you can have a break from what you gave up, time for celebration indeed!

Although nowadays usually confused with the American Mothers’ Day (which is mid-May in the United States) and ruthlessly commercialised, we still love this happy day when mothers and motherhood spring to the fore, as Spring itself comes in.

Alas, in 2020 the pestilence of COVID-19 has cast its ominous shadow over poor mum, and many mums, particular the septuagenarian ones have not been celebrated in person.

This led us in Mark Aspen Reviews to cogitate that we have seen so many plays (and operas) over the past twelve months, in which mothers have featured strongly.
So here is a thespian celebration for Mothering Sunday 2020


We start a year ago with My Mother Said I Never Should, which toured throughout March and April last Spring. Grandmother, mother and daughter relationship, so two mothers for the price of one.


June, Paula Young played Mrs Beech, a “damaged and dangerous” mother in Edmundians’ Goodnight Mr Tom, a real tear-jerker.


Out into the countryside in June for the Grange Festival’s remarkable production of Handel’s opera Belshazzar. The feisty Nitocris, Belshazzar’s mother, is savagely protective of her son, but what a son!


Opening the autumn season, the Best family have a very busy 115 years of troubles, tribulations and titillations in Questors’ Table. Who come out the strongest? The mums of course.

15. Jodie Prenger (Helen) and Tom Varey (Peter)_A Taste of Honey

In A Taste of Honey the mother, Helen, is no sweetie. Even her daughter, Jo thinks of her as a “semi-whore”. “Brash, bold and brassy”, Helen is alas not an ideal role model.


RSS confused traditionalists with its gender-bending Scandi –Noir production of Hamlet. Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother may have been robbed of the role’s ambiguity, but Jane Marcus played it to the hilt.


If you want tragedy laid on with a trowel, Euripides is your playwright. And Women of Troy is as tragic as you can get. In the plush surrounds of the Athenæum Club, the Actors of Dionysus presented some hard-rending depictions of tragic motherhood. Grandmother Queen Hekabe and mother Andromache must part with the baby Prince Astyanax to be killed by the Greeks.


At the end of November Sarah Crowe gave us the “frazzled and hollowed-out” Phoebe, the ultimate put-upon mother, trying to keep a crumbling family together in The Entertainer .

Blood Brothers - Promo (previous cast )2

In the New Year, Blood Brothers, has another stretched mother Mrs Johnstone, played by Lynn Paul, in Bill Kenwright’s “somewhat darker” take on the musical.


Another set of heroically tragic mothers were found in The Revlon Girl, a moving account of the 1966 Aberfan disaster.

MADAM BUTTERFLY, ENO, London Coliseum, London, Britain - 24 Feb 2020

ENO’s revival of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly, one of opera’s many tragic mothers, “threw the nerves in patterns”, until it was tragically cut short by the shadow of coronavirus and the London Coliseum, as all London theatres closed its doors for the foreseeable future.

Our dramatic mothers this past year are all pretty strong characters, but not one of has had a happy story to tell. In retrospect, for our real mothers, isolated by the novel coronavirus, Mothering Sunday 2020 doesn’t seem so bad.

So, let’s give thanks for mothers. Happy Mothering Sunday!

Mark Aspen
March 2020

Photography by Sheila Burnett, Simon Annand, Robert Vass, Rishi Rai, Marc Brenner, Sally Tunbill, Katerina Kalogeraki, Helen Murray, Jojo Leppink and Jane Hobson

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