Not Yours, Mine

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1 June 2019.

Oldham Coliseum.

Kate and Adam were in a relationship. Now they’re not. She’s having a baby, and he’s the father. Adam wants to be a parent to his son, but Kate just needs to move on with her life. She’s refusing to allow him access to their child.

Seeking contact with his son is going to be a steep learning curve for a working-class lad, from a “shit” area, with a not-very-well-paid job. Adam is a man of few words and, beyond a bit of banter with his best mate Lewis, any opportunities to talk about his problems are limited. At home, he conceals the truth of what is going on from his agoraphobic mother Joyce (Kate Hampson), who has not ventured outside since her husband died.

It could all be very shouty, gritty and grim. However, Rachel McMurray’s script is elegantly restrained, and sparse in places – perfectly capturing situations where so much is left unsaid. Her characters are trying to make sense of complex feelings, but are often unable to find the words to fully express them or the strength to deal with them.

Talking is sometimes dispensed with altogether, with movement and music used imaginatively to bring affecting depth to the protagonists and their emotions. Kate (Catherine Morefield) and Adam weave in and out of each other’s arms as they battle with their unresolved feelings. While on hearing news of his son’s birth, Adam expresses his joy with a euphoric dance.

McMurray’s script doesn’t seek to take sides. Both Adam and Kate are angry – he is frustrated and believes the situation is unfair, while she is hurt and feels let down by him. Their interactions are characterised by brief exchanges and repetition as if they are stuck, unable to break out of a vicious cycle. There’s pained bewilderment in their elliptical exchanges. “Why?… Don’t!… Please… Just…”.

Mediation, contact orders, visitation schedules – Adam’s solicitors bombard him with legalese, weigh him down with colour-coded paperwork and move around him with meticulously choreographed precision. Noticeably they never once look at Adam, they never really see him. Their over-elaborate synchronised movements and slick indifference serve to showcase the complexity and insensitivity of the legal processes that families must endure.

Piles of cardboard boxes serve as a backdrop for the action. On one level they are a physical manifestation of house-bound Joyce’s out-of-control online shopping habit. Yet they also hint at things tidied away, stored-up and hidden from view – all needing to be unpacked eventually.

There’s a pleasing but effective simplicity to the set design. In front of the wall of stacked cardboard, four black wooden blocks serve as seats or platforms (or occasionally they are slammed to the floor as characters vent their frustrations). It’s also beautifully lit, with bright white light giving way to hot pinks and cool blues.

The four actors deliver committed and authentic performances. Ned Cooper is especially good, serving to lighten the mood, as the fun-loving and responsibility-averse Lewis. By contrast, Jake Henderson’s Adam is forced to grow up fast as he comes to terms with being a father. There’s a beautifully tender scene where he nervously holds his son Ben for the very first time. It’s a powerful performance, thoughtful and well-paced, traveling from sullen introspection towards blazing full-on emotion.

Not Yours, Mine is an accomplished and genuinely distinctive blend of spoken word and physical expression. Beneath its skilfully stylised exterior, it’s also a very human story. One where there are no real winners or losers – only two young parents and a legal system not fit for purpose.

Oldham Coliseum.

Fine Comb Theatre.

Fine Comb Theatre are Associate Artists at Oldham Coliseum Theatre.

Images by Sophie Giddens

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