Reviewed – 21st July 2022
“There’s a lack of convention inbuilt in the show, which means it feels totally normal for someone to appear in a bear costume”
Oh Mother seeks to express the contradictions of motherhood, the oddities and difficulties, as well as some of the pleasures and absurdities. It’s chaos, random sketches tumbling into each other, one after the next, with no particular through-plot or message. Costumes include Grecian gowns and golden crowns, a sequin bra with two golden babies suckling, a power suit with only one heel, and a leotard. The set consists of a massive sign – ‘BABY’- lit up like an actress’s dressing room mirror, intermittently flashing and flickering, with a dishwasher stage left, a cello stage right, more golden babies strewn across the floor, and a massive semi-sheer curtain, pulled this way and that throughout. As I say, chaos.
Which all seems perfectly fitting for the subject matter. There are occasional moments of joy or peace, but for the most part, the script lays heavily on the disorder and change that having a baby brings about. This is later explained in a discussion between Abbi Greenland (one half of the Rashdash core) and her mother: they don’t want to appear smug, or dwell on how happy and wonderful their lives are now that they have babies, no matter how true that is. Because, Abbi says, it’s more important to talk about how hard it is. She’s not wrong: Watching three new mothers talk about the joys of motherhood for ninety minutes would be a drag. But there’s plenty of joy in this show already, even if it’s not quite so explicit.
A conversation between a new mother (this time Helen Goalen, the second core Rashdash member) and her partner about division of labour, for example, explains that, despite him offering, despite her previously saying they should split the labour evenly, she doesn’t actually want him to help with night feeds. She wants to feed this baby all by herself, from herself, even if it exhausts her. She wants to make all the decisions about this tiny being, to be in control entirely. It’s complicated, and it’s not made to look easy, but ultimately Goalen is expressing the strange ecstasy that comes from being the entire life source for a little person.
This scene is also particularly glorious because dad is wearing a big bear costume. This is never explained, but it feels like a way of softening the dynamic between man and woman. As Abbi later mentions, she’s now very reliant on a man, which, presumably, has never happened before and is, obviously, tricky for someone who’s spent their whole lives fighting against a patriarchal system. So, put him in a bear costume, and suddenly it doesn’t feel quite so patriarchal.
There’s a lack of convention inbuilt in the show, which means it feels totally normal for someone to appear in a bear costume, or for the cast to break into a musical number or a bit of expressive dancing. Similarly, it’s not unusual to suddenly have a very frank discussion about how babies change a person, and therefore change friendships, all while sporting the aforementioned sequin bra and golden suckling babies.
Simone Seales, the exquisite cellist and third member of the ensemble, also includes her stories of motherhood, or rather her journey to choosing it. Despite there being various takes on the theme throughout- the mother suffering Alzheimer’s being taken care of by her grown daughter, or the mother of a new mother, talking about her own experiences thirty years ago- Simone’s experiences aren’t quite as integrated into the show. Which, to be honest, isn’t all that disruptive. But it does feel a bit like Abbi and Helen are one part, and Simone is another. That being said, her cello score ties the whole show together, giving a sense of intent to what might have otherwise felt a bit random.
Performances are funny and frank, unafraid to be physical and vulnerable, serious and silly. It’s the perfect show for new mothers, a show of solidarity, although it’s not just for new mothers, which is handy, seeing as they might still have a tiny person strapped to their chest. If you can, though, it’s well worth getting the babysitter in for this one.
Reviewed by Miriam Sallon
Photography by The Other Richard
Soho Theatre until 13th August
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