'When did you last see my Mother?' review or 'MILF in reverse'

'When did you last see my Mother?' Christopher Hampton
Trafalgar Studios 2, Friday 16th September 2011
Written for Time Out
I saw her in this sketch. Does that count?

Harry Melling is best known as Harry Potter's dumpy cousin Dudley, who ate incessantly and talked little. In Christopher Hampton's first play, 'When Did you last see my Mother', Melling's look and sound has transformed completely. He plays nattily dressed but struggling teenager Ian, who might sup on cheese and toast but has a ferocious appetite for boys and banter.

Melling is compulsive viewing, as he flirts and scuffles with his semi-straight friend and flatmate, Jimmy (Sam Swainsbury). Melling's Ian is gleefully pretentious and lacerates Jimmy's love interests with malicious precision. One poor lady is labelled a 'collapsible haggis' and another lass dismissed with the 'fond' farewell, 'Go home Fanny Hill!' Hampton wrote this play when he was just 18 and his dialogue buzzes with energy. It feels like a script scribbled hastily but with huge enthusiasm.

The first half is excellent; plot-light, light-hearted and a sound showcase for Hampton's stinging dialogue and Melling's nuanced delivery. But Hampton's youth begins to tell in the second half and, as the plot darkens, the play's weaknesses are exposed. The characters feel overstretched and their emotions false.

When Jimmy's mother confesses to Ian, 'I want you so much', it's a tough line to swallow. And it's hard not to flinch when Swainsbury's already starchy Jimmy begins a scene with the line, 'Something terrible has happened'. The humour dries up too and Blanche McIntyre's production, so vibrant in the first half, loses its sparkle.


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