Ma, Pa and the Little Mouths @ Traverse Theatre

This collaboration between the Tron Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland has produced a dark, surreal and excessively absurd play.

Review by Elaine Reid | 18 May 2018
  • Ma, Pa and the Little Mouths

Ma, Pa, and the Little Mouths, the result of a collaboration between the Tron Theatre and the National Theatre of Scotland to enable emerging playwrights to showcase their work on the main stage, was written by actor and playwright Martin McCormick.

Directed by Andy Arnold, the play is set in the decrepit, dusty and claustrophobic dirty-white living room of Ma (Karen Dunbar) and Pa (Gerry Mulgrew), who keep the light out from the windows by covering them in endless rips of thick tape, set the fire up high, and keep inside almost exclusively. Their only contact with the outside world being Pa’s weekly trip out for messages.

As it unfolds, the wacky, wild and bizarre stories pour out past old lips, as the bickering couple go about their mundane self-imposed prison-like lives. The increasing tension and drama in their tales is well-matched by the gradual dimming of the lights in their room, which snap back to full beam as each story comes to an end.  

The arrival of a curious stranger, Neil (Nalini Chetty), who Pa rescues on his trip to the shops, is a welcome lift to the performance and their stagnant lives, with noticeable additions of colour being introduced to the room (Pa hangs multi-coloured bunting across the drab interior, Neil is forced to put on a flamboyant red dress) as youth returns to the house. And it’s Chetty who inspires perhaps some of the largest laughs as her discomfort in the bizarre, and at times menacing, company of Ma and Pa manifests itself: she bares her “lovely white teeth” through a clenched mouth, and is forced to belt out a rendition of Rock-a-bye Baby while holding a vacuum cleaner attachment as a microphone.

Behind the at-times slapstick humour – when Pa practices the “new” notion of jogging and mimics Neil tripping prior to rescuing her – there’s darkness as the echoes of the little mouths haunt the house, out of sight in the dark corners as the murky past of the couple lies amid the dust, impossible to see clearly.

It's a dark, funny, often surreal and at times excessively absurd play, which initially lacks momentum but soon builds to an uncomfortable crescendo as stories of past and present crash together, and little mouths appear in more places than you might expect.

Traverse Theatre, until Sat 19 May; more info at