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Why Your Kid Is A Pain In The Arse

2 March 2016 | 2:29 pm | Simon Eales

"A lot of them are guilty of past indiscretions, and a lot of them are hypocrites in the current situation."

"If our brains are scrambled eggs, you'll have to forgive us." Katrina Milosevic is still puffing, having just fallen out of rehearsal for the Melbourne Theatre Company's upcoming show, The Distance. "It's the most intense scene and we did it about 50 times." Milosevic's cast-mate, Ben Prendergast, sitting next to her, explains, "Today was about Bea, the mother, who's back in London from Melbourne. She's left her two kids behind and her dilemma is, 'Will she go back to them?' Her friends have rallied around her and, today, the truth came out that she really has no intention of going back.

"If you're familiar with the comedian, Louis CK, he's built a career on talking about how his kids are dickheads."

"We're arguing until we're blue in the face that being a mother isn't about being the perfect mother, it's about being there, and being at least ok," he continues, referring to his and Milosevic's roles as members of Bea's friendship group, "but she says, 'Well, that's not good enough for me. I'm not good enough. I'm leaving them.'"

Set against the 2011 London riots, lauded UK playwright Deborah Bruce's latest work, directed here by the MTC's Leticia Caceres, not only explores the taboos around admitting that parenting is really hard, but what happens when it is the family's mother figure who does the disrupting.

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Compared to Milosevic, Prendergast is serene. "Katrina's character, Alex, gets a rude shock in this whole process, so Katrina's sitting here breathless, and basically my character, Dewi, he's standing there taking it all in from the background," Prendergast laughs.

Dewi, who married into the group, may be quiet in the scene they've just rehearsed, but he has his moment later on. The Distance gives space to each element of Bea's extended family unit. "It's really interesting because the opinions and judgments come from each of the characters in different ways. A lot of them are guilty of past indiscretions, and a lot of them are hypocrites in the current situation," Prendergast says.

We might know elements of this kind of story well: a single mother who decides that the best thing for her children is to leave them. But bits of it are slightly off. Isn't it usually the father? Can we feel sympathy for the mother who does this? Perhaps because of their difficult humanness, these questions have found a resonance with both actors. "In the process of rehearsal there have been so many things that have come up where we've been, like, 'Oh yeah, everyone's been through this,'" Prendergast says.

It might be that the play's protagonist, Bea, played by Susan Prior, has a super-human understanding of what is good for the people in her life, and how to cope. "If you're familiar with the comedian, Louis CK, he's built a career on talking about how his kids are dickheads," Prendergast laughs. "You're not allowed to say your kids are pains in the arse, you're not allowed to say those things, you're only allowed to think them. I think you'll have audiences in here as well having those same kinds of reactions."

"It is, really, delightful," Milosevic reflects. "That's the best word I can think of to describe it, insightful and delightful. There's a musicality to it, and Bruce really does carry you through this emotional landscape."