OH MOTHER

Abbi Greenland ,Helen Goalen and Simone Seales. Image by The Other Richard

Devised by Helen Goalen, Abbi Greenland, Penny Greenland and Simone Seales

Composed by Becky Wilkie and Simone Seales

HOME

Rashdash has been a hive of creativity and productivity in recent years. In the midst of Covid lockdowns they produced shows Don’t Go Back To Sleep about the pandemic and Look At Me Don’t Look At Me about Pre-Raphaelite artist and muse Lizzie Siddall. while also producing several babies. New show Oh Mother was originally in the making pre- pandemic but was delayed due to funding issues, covid and subsequent pregnancies. It seems oddly fitting that when it finally reaches the stage all three core members of Rashdash are now mothers.

Oh Mother is brimming over with ideas and creativity that spills out the like the vivid ball pit balls that litter the opening sequence. Fittingly the stage is initially hidden by a curtain haphazardly erected to screen the audience from the mayhem on stage. There are apologies from Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen who both appear dressed like Grecian goddesses and whose studied poses exemplify the glorification of Motherhood in classical art. As the curtain falls away the disarray is all too visible. The gleaming, sleek stage is littered with plastic balls, toys and ikea beakers. As they frantically tidy up this unflinching look at motherhood also includes the tidying away of blood soaked maternity pads and disposable birthing sheets. Either side of the stage is a cello played by Simone Seales whose music flows and spikes like hormonal surges and a glossy dishwasher which is the subject of choral hymn. The glittering raised backdrop is a gorgeous light display of the word BABY which is used creatively throughout the show. The set design by Oli Townsend and lighting design by Katharine Williams are really striking and incredibly effective.

Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland. Image by The Other Richard

The show is structured around sketches and songs and movement that all explore what it is to be a mother and to be mothered and the expectations and assumptions Society makes around what it means to have a vagina and be potentially capable of building another human being. It also explores mothering from the cradle to the grave as dementia means that many of us become mothers to our own mothers when they require the same care they gave us as babies.

Abbi Greenland. Image by The Other Richard

There are poignant moments as Goalen and Greenland reflect on those who don’t have their babies any more or who never got to meet them while recognising the vital importance of saying something rather than being silent on the subject. Goalen grapples with the tension between couples when a new baby redefines her relationship, while Greenland reflects on navigating friendships where one is now a parent and the other is not. Seales who is non binary experiences nightmarish sequences where they are under threat from a mother who has rigid stereotypical views of women and hilariously meets their own vagina in the form of Greenland dressed as a swashbuckling, baby demanding Don Giovanni as Goalen feverishly ejects baby dolls through the vee of the A in BABY. Interspersed are conversations with the unseen Penny Greenland who looked after her own mother Hannah for 7 years. The other performers play her and her mother giving a wonderful flavour of generations of wit, wisdom, joy and despair.

This really does feel like vintage Rashdash (even though I miss Becky Wilkie on stage) with witty acerbic songs on how to make motherhood sexy despite the shit under your nails and underneath your maternity pants being unwashed and unwaxed. There are golden cherubic babies strapped to bosoms, Daddy bear costumes, playful toddler games and desperate pleas to tyrannical babies who have left them feeling like dried out husks. There is undoubted strength as their dance trained bodies are still strong and limber as they move fluidity around the set. There is joy and adoration as these mothers embrace their new roles while still wanting to have the time to fuck around and leave a trail of beautiful men wondering what went wrong. If they can produce work like this with the infamous fevered baby brains then there is no doubt that these clever, witty women are just hitting their stride

Abbi Greenland and Simone Seales. Image by The Other Richard

Oh Mother is rather like a projectile vomit of creative ideas, it is gloriously messy and frantic and for some it may seem too busy with too much crammed into 90 minutes. Personally I loved the energy and passion. It perfectly summed up the cacophony in your head that is early motherhood when your pre-existing neuroses get magnified fifty-fold and you are chronically sleep deprived so fact and fantasy merge. As Greenland and Goalen acknowledge there is a lot going on…but perhaps just like their babies they have birthed something really special.

HOME 12th -28th May 2022

Tobacco Factory Theatres with MAYK Bristol 21 -25th June 2022

Soho Theatre 19th July- 13th August 2022

Three Sisters

Royal Exchange Theatre

By Rashdash

After Chekhov

Three Sisters is the latest show from multi-award winning Rashdash and is co-produced with the Royal Exchange Theatre with whom they are Associate Artists. This is a gutsy and vibrant challenging of the narrative conventions of the classics in theatre. In taking a play by Chekhov and experimenting with the form Rashdash are exploring who the classics are aimed at. Do they still have a relevance in theatre today? Who gets what from them and in what’s ways can we alter them to continue to get something powerful and enduring from them?

Why do the men in this play have all of the lines?

Rashdash rip up the script, burn the frumpy black dresses, bare their maidenly breasts, crank up the volume on the piano and add some strings and drums. This is Chekhov in a mash up with Vivienne Westwood and The Slits. This is sexy, vibrant, caustic and clever. Packing a hefty feminist punch and some serious theatrical clout while also remaining playful and whimsical, Three Sisters is truly a thing of joy from start to finish.

These three sisters are not muted and still. They are not passive Barbie dolls but are Action girls in crinolines. There are no sepia tones to this production, instead there is a kaleidoscope of colour. There are frequent moments where tableau scenes are staged then fractured and fragmented as the performers hold up a prism to see women as so much more than pliable, passive vessels to be moulded by male writers into their version of womanhood. These women are messy, imperfect, funny, clever and complex. They have mastered social media as well as the piano. They are cultured and educated with their own opinions, and can also cry in a supermarket and “dance it out” like they’re on Greys Anatomy. They own their own bodies and wear whatever they choose, if they strip off on stage it is their decision and has a function rather than being sexualised. They wear comfy knickers, will massage their perineums with olive oil to avoid tearing in childbirth and will rail against the passage of time as a slow, slow bastard cunt!

Performance is meshed with music,song and movement so there is always a sense of flux and change. Even in moments where there is a static snapshot of stillness there will be music or the movement of a statue or the TICKTOCK digital display flashing. Nothing stays the same. The scenes are constantly shifting as the pile of disguarded clothing gets bigger as if to say plays like bodies can be dressed or styled in an endless array of guises. The nod to Shakespeare in some of the fashion choices is a witty reminder of just how many of our classic plays were written by men and are now being revisited from a female perspective- most recently Othello at Liverpool’s Everyman.

Rashdash are all accomplished musicians and with the addition of Chloe Rianna on drums and Yoon-Ji Kim on violin and synth, they move through a range of styles from classical to trippy, punk and blues. The soundscape is as varied as the costumes and the women on stage. Olga Helen Goalen, Masha Abbi Greenland and Irena Becky Willie all sing, and they all deliver whether alluding to mainstream pop Adele and Katy Perry or spitting out a punk lyric or belting out a torch song. The lyrics are mercilessly clever, and often wickedly funny. All three deliver strong performances that have an essence of each sister.

This production works across enough levels to be a success whether you know the original or not. A Chekhov aficionado will get the references to their mother’s broken clock or the spinning top given to Irena. They will see the irony of Olga idly wishing she was more able to do something about homelessness when of course the sisters are about to lose their family home. Whereas fresh eyes see a topical issue being raised that they have probably walked past on their way to the theatre. The haze of smoke alludes to the nearby town on fire but could just as easily refer to Grenfell Towers. Masha can be a modern woman dealing with heartbreak by swiping Tinder or a sister in an unhappy marriage seeking solace within an army garrison.

Moments on stage such as Masha reading out multiple reviews of the original play or being literally squashed by volumes of the classics poke fun at our obsession with the relative safety of tradition in theatre while reminding us of the need for joyfully subversive new works. Rashdash pull back the curtains and fill the stage with fresh air and new opportunities. Three Sisters can challenge existing lovers of the classics and bring new vibrant audiences to look at established works. The Royal Exchange Theatre is currently also showing The Cherry Orchard on it’s main stage. Like a beautifully deconstructed cheesecake on Masterchef Three Sisters is a brilliant take on the original classic.

Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester 3rd -19th May

The Yard, London 22 May – 9 June

Tobacco Factory, Bristol 12 -16 June

Images by Richard Davenport