The Mother

A bleak and brutal odyssey through motherhood

You could call Natalia Osipova's new work, choreographed by Arthur Pita and based on Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Story of Mother', a kind of anti-nativity; instead of being bestowed a divine baby, here the mother has her sick baby stolen by death. The bleak odyssey that follows sees her trace the sound of her baby's cries through a hellish labyrinth into a garden of death, where she will try to bargain for the child's life.

In Pita's version, realism rubs up against feverish nightmares. In a crumbling house in 1960s Russia, Osipova, as the Mother, paces the stage, pinched, hunched, the picture of strung-out sleep deprivation, fretting over each bloodcurdling scream that comes from the moses basket in the corner. Into her anguish a doctor serenely steps, tricking her into drinking a draught so he can substitute his bundled white coat for her baby.

In her quest to get her infant back, she has to traverse her own haunted house of dreams, encountering figures which glimmer with the uncanny recognition of archetype; the larger than life Matryoshka, who makes her dance – Red Shoes style – to exhaustion; a widow in black lace who binds her in a scarf of thorns; the ferryman who takes her eyes; the drag queen who steals her hair. There are glitter gimp masks, lace bodysuits, peeling wallpaper, wigs and sunglasses and a bathroom that looks like it was abandoned by Norman Bates long ago. Frank Moon and Dave Price's score pulses and rumbles beneath, sometimes throwing up the odd hallucinatory cry from a violin or organ.

All the while the mother's body is destroyed piece by piece: when she arrives at death's garden, ravaged, shattered, bloodied and mutilated, she looks as if she might have just given birth. Osipova excels at channelling the energy of martyrdom into her performance; she seems like someone constantly on the brink of giving up, but fighting against it with all her will. Jonathan Goddard as her counterpart is a sharp, protean death, slithering between each of his incarnations.

Is it all a figment of postnatal depression, a psychoanalytic look at the ancestral ghosts that haunt all new lives? Like the tangled and overwhelming emotions of new motherhood, the piece feels too complicated and fragmented to pinpoint a single slant. But that is to its power.

Reviewed at EICC, Fri 21 Dec.

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