Interview Amanda Abbington
PUBLISHED: 18:05 22 February 2019 | UPDATED: 18:05 22 February 2019
The Sherlock and Mr Selfridge star talks family breakdown and parental worries as she takes on her latest role as a devastated mother in Florian Zeller’s The Son at Kiln Theatre
The third play in Florian Zeller’s family trilogy is “about the horror of being a parent” and the age old worry; “is love enough to save someone else?”
Set in Paris, The Son deals with family breakdown as 17 year old Nicholas unravels after his parents’ split.
Skipping school, lying, self-harming and depression build to a crisis when he goes to live with his father, his new partner and baby for a fresh start.
Sherlock and Mr Selfridge star Amanda Abbington plays Nick’s mother, a high powered lawyer, devastated by the changes in him.
“She’s still in love with her ex-husband, struggles to be a single mum, and there’s a lot of animosity and anger between the four of them,” she says.
“Nick can’t come to terms with his parents splitting up, and she’s reeling from the fact that her boy has fundamentally changed. He has such sadness about about him, seeing your child like that is heartbreaking, and the more she tries to reach him the more he shuts her out. The last ditch is to go to the dad and that’s when it all starts to spiral and go crazy.”
Like The Mother and The Father which were also staged at The Tricycle, now Kiln Theatre, this premiere features unreliable narrators from the French playwright who says: “Theatre is a place for questions not answers for doubt not certainty.’”
“I hadn’t seen his plays before but i knew how brilliantly he writes about families and how beautifully he writes for women,” says Abbington.
“He’s very perceptive about the complexities of families, the peaks and troughs and what happens when they break down.
“His work has a weird undercurrent. Just when you think everyone’s really normal, it takes a turn. But doubt is not a negative thing. It’s a very interesting thing as an audience to be constantly wrong-footed .
“As an audience member I want to be challenged, to have a story told to you not in a conformist way. He does that in a haunting and evocative way. There’s a real darkness to him. The ending comes from nowhere like pulling the rug out from under you, it’s an impressive piece of storytelling that blindsides you.”
Abbington, herself a single parent following her 2016 split from fellow actor Martin Freeman, has a teenage son of her own and and can relate to the parental fears in the play.
“I am a single parent and this deals with family break-up with the thing of ‘Oh God have I caused some damage by doing what I did, was it selfish to stay with the father?’ But a child psychologist came to talk to us about depression and self harm and said, on a grand scale, kids are very resilient, give them love and support in the break up and they will be fine.”
At a time when teenage depression, bullying and suicide are all over the news, mental health is a growing worry.
“Social media, the internet is a terrible thing for kids and young adults,” says Abbington.
“It breeds bullying and lack of empathy. It’s a scary place that I think adults can deal with better than children.
“There’s a lot of pressure today and less freedom. I remember having a great time as a kid going out all day in the school holidays, not coming back until 7 o’clock at night. There’s definitely a shift in how kids interact and respond to each other.”
Nick is also getting a hard time from his peers at school because he is different.
“But I don’t know anybody who is normal,” protests Abbington.
“It’s about finding your normal.”
Most recently on our screens in Netflix thriller Safe, Abbington loves being back in the rehearsal room, and aims to continue both theatre and screen work.
“They are both very different and require different disciplines. One will always help the other.
“After a nice bit of telly, theatre is terrifying, really scary. Every night is a new entity. You don’t know what’s going to happen. Coming back to a play is always very exciting, creating characters with a writer, director and other actors, you can be a conduit for storytelling - hopefully something interesting, relevant and challenging like this.”
Her character Mary Watson has been killed off in Sherlock but could there be more episodes?
“We never say never with Mark (Gatiss) and Stephen(Moffat) they might always have an idea you never know. And you never really do leave Sherlock, you will always be in a flashback.”
As for her own private life, being in focus following her break with Sherlock co-star Freeman, Abbington is philosophical.
“Being a mother has changed me a lot in terms of priorities, you realise what’s important. Your first instinct is to protect them and make sure they don’t get affected by what they read in the papers. But in the grand scheme of things, people don’t really care, and if they do, they do for about two minutes then they are on to the Kardashians or Piers Morgan. I became an actress because I wanted to act, not to be in a reality TV show. It’s about keeping your feet on the ground, putting the bins out and realising it’s just a job; it’s a great job, but the trappings that go with it aren’t that important.”
The Son runs until April 6. kilntheatre.com