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Theatre review: When Did You Last See My Mother? 
23rd-Sep-2011 11:37 pm
Christopher Hampton is best known nowadays for Dangerous Liaisons and his translations of foreign plays, but he made a precocious¹ debut at the Royal Court aged 18 with a play about teenage sexual frustration and the particular kind of confused sexuality bred at boarding schools, When Did You Last See My Mother? Blanche McIntyre revives the play with Harry Melling as Ian, orphaned a few years back and self-consciously trading on it for sympathy. After finishing school he and his friend Jimmy move into a grotty bedsit together, Ian not-so-secretly in love with his flatmate (given that he's played by Sam Swainsbury, this strikes me as perfectly reasonable.) But Jimmy's moved on to girls, and after an argument Ian decides to make a move on Jimmy's mother (Abigail Cruttenden) instead, with tragic consequences. Ian is one of those self-sabotaging characters who seems to demand the kind of big, scenery-chewing performance that few other parts could support, and which Melling is happy to provide. He's a good choice for the role, the '60s garb making his resemblance to his late grandfather all the more apparent, his flailing limbs and vicious putdowns conveying someone determined not to let on how unsure he is of his identity. But his costars match him in their more restrained performances, balancing the play out, and Swainsbury's final scene is quietly heartbreaking amid all the histrionics. As with Butley which also featured a central character who seemed to spend all his time pushing people away, I have difficulty with seeing why these kinds of characters acquired all these friends in the first place, but overall the play has stood the test of time while being very resolutely of its time.

When Did You Last See My Mother? by Christopher Hampton is booking until the 8th of October at Trafalgar Studio 2.

¹by 1964 standards; obviously nowadays at the Royal Court a debut play at 18 is less "precocious," more "what took you so long, grandad?"
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