How is Uncle John? is a contemporary play about a mother and her daughter who has been trafficked into the sex trade. The Mother, who is at an appointment with her psychiatrist, discusses the problems she faced trying to deal with the authorities when she suspected that her adult daughter Hope had gotten into trouble in Italy. Her performance is intersected with monologues by Hope, recalling childhood memories and how she ended up being trafficked and forced into prostitution by her boyfriend.
The Mother talks about the first time she glimpsed her daughter after she had given birth, declaring her to be the “most beautiful” person she had ever seen. She didn’t see the forceps marks, blood or afterbirth, and describes her shock at the pictures of the event. She uses this to emphasise how the eyes can lie. This idea, along with musings over the connection of philosophy and physics, are interesting – but they’re not explored further and are ultimately abandoned.
The first appearance of Hope is jarring, as up until that point there was no indication that this wasn’t a one-woman show. Hope’s monologues, while bringing a different perspective to certain memories – such as when she broke her arm at the age of seven – are not well integrated into the play as a whole.
Naomi Stafford as Hope gave an uneven performance. The innocent, wide eyed seven-year old was performed well, as was her character when she was prostituted. But her performance as a young adult before she went abroad was too childish and overly naive, and didn’t fit with the narrative presented by the Mother.
About half-way through the play, a revelation by the mother about the nature of her relationship with Hope’s father feels as though it was forced into the play. It wasn’t hinted at previously, and like many other topics, was not really expanded on to any satisfying conclusion.
In the end, neither the Mother’s nor Hope’s experiences are explored sufficiently. The show tries to deal with too many ideas, and it should have focused on either the mother’s experiences or the daughter’s trafficking. Overall, this is a disappointing production let down by lopsided performances and a lack of resolution.