Tom Scott remembers the moment his mother, Joan – once a glamorous woman who worked as a buyer for the elegant Roches department store in Limerick, Ireland – couldn't afford underwear. "Mum was into fashion and fabric and cuts and shapes," he says. "After six kids in Feilding, she would be telling us, in a shapeless print frock, that she couldn't afford knickers.
"The price of paying for our high school uniforms meant that she went without. She wasn't exaggerating – she was dirt poor, and was no longer a glamorous figure, and she felt it very keenly."
From a young age, Tom was aware of the countless sacrifices Joan made for her family, leaving Ireland to raise six children in rural Feilding with an angry, alcoholic husband. Her hardships started early – an English doctor pulled all her teeth out when she gave birth to Tom and his twin sister, Sue, without asking, because "they thought Irish people couldn't afford dentistry". Now, Tom is honouring her life on stage, with the help of his own son, The Phoenix Foundation's Samuel Flynn-Scott.
In Joan, we meet the lionhearted, devilishly funny titular character at two stages of her life – played young and old respectively by real-life mother-daughter duo Kate McGill and Ginette McDonald (Lyn of Tawa). McDonald was "terrifically good friends" with Joan, which lent a natural authenticity to the story.
"I kept telling Nettie (McDonald) that she needed to write a play about herself because she's extremely funny," says Tom. "A couple of times Nettie came around and said, 'I feel a bit guilty, in the weekend I was at a dinner party, and people begged me to impersonate your mum'. She was already entertaining people, repeating stories that she'd either witnessed herself or heard me tell about Mum.
"So I sat down and started writing, then I thought, why don't I write a play where young Joan and old Joan meet, and young Joan has no idea what's going to come next, and old Joan does, but can't tell her."
Sam, who composed the music for the play, says having two Joans meet across time reveals the sacrifice behind her riotously funny exterior.
"Growing up, we only knew the old Joan," he says. "At times she would just be incredibly revealing and ribald and say horrendous things that were hilarious. She knew she was a bit of a hilarious character, but having the young Joan in there, it's much more real because it gives you that perspective of a young person with hopes and dreams, and she was actually quite a sophisticated young woman."
Though the story is personal to the Scotts, Tom says the last 10 minutes of the play are "quite universal, and quite moving".
"We're all stronger and have more resilience than we give ourselves credit for," he says. "You see any slightly strange little old lady at the check-out counter, behind the cardigan, there's probably an extraordinary story there."
Who: Tom and Samuel Scott
When: Feb 8-Feb 23
Where: ASB Waterfront Theatre