Wilderness is a play about the impact on children of family separation, it runs until April 27th at the Hampstead Theatre in London – try to see it if you can.
Review By an Alienated Mother
The stage setting (see photos) was stark which was appropriate and a powerful way to set the scene for such a raw, emotional journey between conflicted parents. I’m pleased to say that on the Saturday matinee I saw the play there was a pretty full audience.
Initially the separating parents had all good intentions to work together to do what was best for their son. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the mother, who went through a difficult childbirth and did not have a happy childhood herself has an overwhelming need for her son; her love for him and her own identity is completely defined by this child. The father wants to remain in his son’s life and continue to play an active part but this becomes thwarted as he starts a new relationship and it continues to mature.
The mother becomes more protective of the child and tries to control every element of his life as she believes she is the only one that knows what’s best for him. This is played out particularly in relation to the food he eats which she tries to impose on the father as well when the son goes to stay with him. The visual of the son travelling backwards and forwards with folded clothing in a suitcase is very profound, particularly in relation to the mother being incredulous that the son could return to her with clean folded clothing which the father was clearly capable of facilitating. The son’s staying contact with the father gradually dwindles though as the father gets more involved with his new partner and the mother’s growing fear of another female role in her son’s life takes hold.
The mother starts to feel isolated, alone and unable to cope when the son visits the father at weekends and her life grinds to a halt without him. The reality is she was the one that ended the relationship with the father and suddenly realises she wants him back and needs him after he has started a new relationship. She does start a new relationship of her own but it is doomed to failure as she cannot separate her ability to rebuild a new adult connection at the same time as focusing on her all-consuming relationship with her son.
The themes within the play in term of alienating behaviour and controlling, narcissistic personality traits demonstrated particularly by the mother, were very familiar and all too painful. The father in typical fashion attempts to exert his perceived rights to see his son and when the court limits his contact to being only indirect emotionally falls apart and attempts to take his life; his new relationship falters for a time until he is able to start putting the situation into a perspective.
The story finally comes to a somewhat unrealistic conclusion, particularly in terms of severe PA in that both parents realise that somehow they must find a working solution for the situation moving forward for the health and wellbeing of their son.
This was a powerful yet sombre portrayal of high conflict parenting, post separation, with clear elements of alienating behaviour shown to be exhibited by the mother. It did stir up many feelings I had experienced going through the conflictual process and the play did genuinely and positively attempt to convey the emotional struggles parents can face in this dynamic with the appropriate element of sombreness.
The play offered the opportunity to get the message about parental alienation and the problems it causes children as well as the underlying dynamics which cause the problem to a wider audience than usual. We are grateful to Kelly Smith for including this piece in the free programme given to all theatre goers during the play’s run.
Seeing the issue we work with and so many suffer from on stage, gives me hope that we are closer than ever to the day when the problems faced by children of divorce and separation are taken seriously in all societies.