That Tom Scott has a more conflicted and complicated relationship with his father than his mother is obvious in the two stories he tells about his Da and Ma in the plays The Daylight Atheist and Joan, now playing in repertoire courtesy of Auckland Theatre Company.
The Daylight Atheist, starring Michael Hurst and described by fellow reviewer Paul Simei-Barton as an extended monologue, is poignant comedy shot through with equal parts wit and tragedy. It paints a complex picture of an intelligent but flawed man unable – for whatever reasons - to find the humanity within his troubled heart.
In contrast, Joan feels like more of tribute to a feisty and funny Ma who might not have told her children daily that she loved them but, by her actions, held a fractured family together in times tougher than many of us can imagine. In doing so, she repeatedly proved she loved her kids - and kept loving them even when she recognised their faults and failings.
Yet by its nature as a homage rather than deep dive into a private life and world, this companion piece to The Daylight Atheist feels less nuanced, less profound. While we hear Joan's story, starting with her own childhood in Ireland, we don't feel it as keenly as we do Scott's story about his father.
Mother and daughter Ginette McDonald and Kate McGill play the older and younger Joan. McDonald puts in a grand turn as a grumpy old woman and McGill, who starts off as the wide-eyed young ingenue, subtlety starts to show how life has squashed dreams and hopes (she also puts in a wicked portrayal of Tom Scott himself).
But at times lines seem rushed and, particularly in the opening scenes, hard to hear nor does the material they're working with have the same gravity as Atheist. It can come across as if the trials and tribulations Joan faced – the "women's issues" - are being trivialised in favour of an easy laugh and that, in turn, makes it trickier to get behind the witticisms to find the depth in the character.
Indeed, the second half – admittedly enjoyed by my companions more than the first – felt, at times, to me like a series of amusing anecdotes pulled together by some killer one-liners; the more poignant memories of Joan's latter years jarred with this.
Overall, though, it is a fine production that, like the best theatre, will leave you entertained and moved and perhaps thankful because, among many things, Atheist and Joan share a manifest sadness. You will laugh and you may well cry – come close to weeping, even – but you won't forget to thank your lucky stars that we now live in a country and a time where unwanted pregnancy doesn't routinely see two near strangers bound together in sickness, poverty and worse.
What: Tom Scott's Ma and Da season – Joan and The Daylight Atheist
Where & when: ASB Waterfront Theatre, until February 23
Reviewed by: Dionne Christian