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Tim McArthur - A Word For Mother Interview

Tim McArthur’s newest play A Word For Mother premieres this spring with an all-female cast and creative team. This simmering family drama, inspired by McArthur’s upbringing, revolves around the intertwined history of four women, sisterly relationships and motherly love.

Reunited by their mother’s unexpected passing, the bond between three sisters begins to strain: emotions boil over and childhood lies are revealed. How far does the apple fall from the tree?

Puppeteer, singer and star of screen and stage, Louise Gold, plays matriarch Pru in this exploration of family dynamics. Gold is best known for her West End career and performances in multiple Muppets’ productions. Further credits include The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (Netflix), Fiddler on the Roof (The Playhouse) and Botticelli in the Fire (Hampstead Theatre).

Gold is joined by a powerful cast of Abigail Moore (Kiss Me Quickstep, New Vic Theatre; Honour, ITV), Heather Johnson (The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, The Orange Tree Theatre; Horrible Christmas, Birmingham Stage Company), and Melaina Pecorini (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace Theatre; The Big Red Bath, UK tour) as the trio of sisters Charity, Faith and Hope.

Having gathered in the kitchen of their family home after the passing of their mother, three grief-stricken daughters must learn to navigate a new family dynamic. The play unravels a family history, moving from the present day to complex childhoods. Each sister reflects on their own relationship with their mother as secrets, rivalries and hidden feelings come bubbling to the surface. Will the sisters’ bond survive the emerging emotions and unfolding tensions?

We chatted with Tim McArthur to learn more about the show.

Where did your arts career begin?
Up until the age of 12 I wanted to be a bus driver, then I did my first am dram show Olivier at Billingham Forum Theatre, and that was it, I was bitten and from then on I wanted to be an actor. 
Were there any people or performances that had an impact on the formal years of  your career?
I have been so lucky over the years as an actor, director and now as writer to work with so many wonderful talented fellow creatives. Helen Lederer had a huge influence on my comedy work. I supported her, in her comedy show on tour in 2000, she is a truly gifted comedian. I learnt a lot from her in constructing and performing comedy. When I first left Drama School I got cast in lots of shows as a dancer (even though I am not majorly flexible a lot of choreographers told me I could sell a number), I did panto in Colchester for three years and there was a brilliant actor called Peter Shorey who was a fantastic DameI would watch him from the wings, I observed him in great detail as he was mesmerising, how he controlled the audience and the timing of his gags. One day I thought I would love to play Dame and that came true. I have always watched fellow experienced actors and director’s work. I really believe that we never stop learning from each other. 
Where did the inspiration for A Word For Mother come from?
My mum sadly passed away in 2016. She had been diagnosed with Leukemia in 2004, and we always knew one day her time would come, but we had time to be together. It made us incredibly closer as a family, however I began thinking what would have happened if we had never had that time and she had passed suddenly. We got the time to express our feelings, have honest conversations. I was very close to my mum and have been very lucky over the years to have very lovely, close friendships with women of all ages. They have been such a strong influence in all areas of my life. Talking to, especially my female actor mates, there are not a lot of plays about women and just celebrate women and their strength, and that what I hope A Word for Mother is all about. 
Being quite a personal piece, is it easier to write inspired by lived experiences or a work of fiction?
There are certain elements of A word for Mother that are quite personal, but not a reflection of my own story. The play explores grief, loss, secrets and sibling rivalry.  I think these subject matters we can all relate to. To make theatre sometimes you have to bend, enhance and play with the truth. To make it more dramatic. There is something quite powerful about a family dynamic, that when a parent dies, it all changes. How much you think you know your siblings? But grief, loss and sadness effects the human behaviour. The heart of the play has to come from the truth, the outer layers are the fiction. 

How did you approach the writing process for the piece?
The idea had been buzzing round my head, whilst I was playing Widow Twankey in Aladdin at the White Rock Theatre, I knew I wanted to write about a mum passing away and how it affected her daughters. After panto I went to the family house in Spain and one morning I woke up and thought todays the day, I sat down on the terrace, and Pru, Charity, Faith and Hope were born. 
How does it feel watching the piece comes to life ahead of the run at Upstairs at the Gatehouse?
To be honest it’s all a bit daunting and exciting at the same time.  I have not been writing for long, but I love telling stories.  Over the years I have directed a lot of new plays and musicals. As a director, I have often banned the writer from the rehearsal room as the actors need to feel that they can fully explore and not feel inhibited with the writer been in the room. So now I am the writer I have to respect my own behaviour as a director. With A Word for Mother, I felt it was important that I got an all -female creative team on the project. Sarah Redmond, who I have known many years is the Director of the piece. I trust her vision completely for production. 
Upstairs at the Gatehouse has been a vital part to my career. I played Sparky in Forever Plaid, Katie and John Plews first ever Christmas show there in 1998, the following year we toured it for 4 months. I have also performed in Cole, Side by Side Sondheim, various solo shows, a two - hander comedy show with Helen Lederer, and the first show I ever produced When Harry Met Barry.  Now to return to UAG as a writer I feel very lucky. 
If you were a biscuit, what would you be and why?
Probably, a party ring, a plain series side when I am working but then a fun silly side when I am not working, but always having a fun edge. 
What keeps you inspired?
Before the pandemic I had a blood clot in my leg. This made me really aware of exercise, so every morning I do 60 min on the exercise bike, watch something on Netflix. These 60 mins every day are my get out time as twere. This helps me to focus on the day ahead. Then I can face what challenges, opportunities the day will bring. 
What does theatre mean to you?
Life, I can’t do anything else. Every other job I wasn’t very good at, or got sacked. 
What do you hope someone takes away from seeing A Word For Mother?
Interesting question, never thought about this before. I suppose, maybe talk about grief. Talk more to your loved ones and close family. We all have secrets maybe confined more in each other. I think just talk more about our feelings. 
A Word For Mother runs at Upstairs at the Gatehouse from Wednesday 1st until Sunday 26th May 2024. Tickets are available from

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