Mumsy review – brilliant bittersweet comedy about the family way

Hull Truck theatre

Lydia Marchant’s sparky debut play about pregnancy and the cost of living finds three generations of mothers sharing a flat

Three generations of women in the same family unexpectedly find themselves sharing a one-bed flat in this bustling debut play by Lydia Marchant. When 22-year-old Sophie discovers she’s pregnant, she moves in with her mum, Rachel, who has just got used to her independence. They are joined by Rachel’s mother, Linda, who is similarly reluctant to readjust her life for a baby Sophie will otherwise raise alone.

Part of the fun of Marchant’s play, set in her native Hull, is upturning traditional family dynamics: it is the rudely awoken Sophie who chastises her mother for returning drunk at 4.30am wearing a dress pinched from her daughter. There is plenty of ribald humour from the get-go as Sophie – eyes despairing, arms flailing – re-enacts her attempts to fish out a condom that has come off during her one-night stand.

In that scene and others, Sophie and Rachel’s conversation merges from mother and daughter to friends or sisters and Marchant excels at exploring the many shades of family relationships. She also sensitively refracts stories through different characters’ memories. Sophie happily recalls childhood games making bizarre recipes (tuna sweetcorn Angel Delight, anyone?) while Rachel’s recollection isn’t so rose-tinted: they made those meals because “we dint have owt in”.

Without sermonising, Marchant demonstrates the impact of a decade of Tory austerity amid a cost of living crisis in which half of all children in lone-parent families are in relative poverty. She dives into interconnected issues of childcare, job security, career development and low pay – all of which disproportionately impact women. Zoë Waterman’s assured production honours the importance of those issues while keeping a lively tone, linking scenes with bursts of Lizzo, Abba and Elastica.

Bronia Housman’s set makes a skyline from the flat’s fridge-freezer, boiler and cupboards. The kitchen tiles match the square windows and panels in a huge backdrop depicting an estate where we imagine similar detailed discussions of food costs taking place. Marchant’s dialogue is full of prices, sometimes used as a punchline (“£10.19 that roast cost!” fumes Rachel about a legendary Toby Carvery family dispute) but often creating escalating panic.

It’s a skill to write across generations like this, evoking the intimacy of new parenthood (nuzzling against a baby with “hot little chicken-nugget breath”) and the decades-long divisions of Rachel and Linda’s relationship. The emotional fallout from the revelation that closes the first act never fully convinces but Jessica Jolleys (Sophie), Nicola Stephenson (Rachel) and Sue Kelvin (Linda) are equally excellent and Marchant’s play, for all its tough issues, is a bundle of joy.

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