Monday, May 13, 2019

Me, Mum and Dusty Springfield – short and bitter-sweet story of growing up in the shadow of a pop legend (Grand Opera House until Saturday 18 May)

Outside the dressing room, Tom Jones, Cher and Chris de bloody Burgh are playing tributes to the recently-departed Dusty Springfield. Daughter Mary (Tara Lynne O’Neill) is getting ready to go out and close the evening with one of her mother’s best-known numbers. As she puts on her make-up, we hear her look back at her relationship with her single-parent, alcoholic mum, brought up in pubs and clubs as much as school.

A large full-height gilded mirror dominates the back of the black and white tiled set, giving the Baby Grand stage an unexpected feeling of depth and allowing O’Neill to turn her back on the audience and continue to get ready for her well-urned finale as we gaze and wonder how far the apple fell from the tree (quite far, it seems) and whether she’ll go on to repeat her mother’s, or her idol’s, mistakes.
“Left alone with just a memory / Life seems dead and so unreal”

While Me, Mum and Dusty Springfield isn’t jam-packed with Dusty Springfield singles, Stephanie Ridings’ script is full of humour (song lyrics rarely make for good advice at pivotal moments in life) and the melancholic unpacking of a claustrophobic mother-daughter relationship full of neglect, booze, one-night stands, big hair, giant rollers, impersonator jealousy, and heaps of empathy.

Julie Maxwell directs the 50-minute one-woman show with gentle confidence, never rushing scenes, and giving O’Neill space to tell the well-crafted story with its unforced parallels, never resorting to comic-acting or face-pulling to earn its laughs. The final, almost-inevitable rendition of You Don't Have To Say You Love Me is surprisingly tender rather than heartstring-tugging, maybe reflecting Mary’s relief that her Mum is finally trapped in an urn on the dressing room table, out of harm’s way, and no longer able to mess up her life.

Short and bitter-sweet, Me, Mum and Dusty Springfield demonstrates Tara Lynne O’Neill’s serious side and tells a single story well without needless complication and fuss. The show continues in the Baby Grand until Saturday 18 May.

Photo credit: Tara Lynne O'Neill

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