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Review of The Mother at Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall

THE MOTHER featuring Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard photo by Kenny Mathieson
THE MOTHER featuring Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard photo by Kenny Mathieson

Perhaps being a non-parent has a lot to do with not quite being able to connect with The Mother – all I could see at face value was a storyline moving at a pace that varied between that of a marriage procession and a glacier, and a revolve that revolved and revolved some more, and when it was done revolving, started revolving back the other way. If you want to know what happens in the show, it’s all in the Hans Christian Andersen tale ‘The Story of a Mother’. It’s possible to read the whole thing in a single sitting, perhaps as a bedtime story to children or otherwise read out in a classroom setting.

What this production does, then, is stretch out such a brief narrative to ninety minutes. That is not problematic. But I found myself re-reading the translation of the Andersen text as printed in the show’s programme on the Tube home. I liked reading it (it’s Andersen, after all) but as someone who believes one should be able to attend a live performance and understand it without having done any ‘homework’ or background reading beforehand, it was somewhat disappointing to find myself working out what the various scenes meant and their significance long after the curtain call. And even then, this being an adaptation, it wasn’t a straightforward scene-by-scene comparison.

Which brings me back to the idea that the failure to fully grasp the plot may be my own fault rather than that of the production. After all, in the various scenes, the title character (Natalia Osipova) goes through a huge range of emotions. Quite frankly, it would take the expertise of a psychiatrist to analyse it all. Leaving aside the text and evaluating what happens on stage on an ‘as is’ basis, the mother keeps hearing her child’s cry – which, mercifully, isn’t set at an ear-splitting volume. It seems to come from various places, including the bath and even the radio, and one wonders if the lady is having a psychological breakdown of some sort after she falls asleep momentarily, exhausted whilst looking after an unwell baby in considerable distress.

Where the child’s father or other relatives were is an irrelevant point as far as this show is concerned – the point is that the mother was watching over her child (the child’s gender is not specified) one moment, and the next time she was conscious, the child was no longer in the room, or in any other room. Thus begins a prolonged journey to find the child, with a number of personal sacrifices to be made along the way, courtesy of various characters all played by Jonathan Goddard – what looks like (and is) a very beautiful and passionate dance sequence is, in context, not unlike The Red Shoes, and there’s a ‘white-haired witch’ (the programme’s character description, not mine) who takes the mother’s younger, darker hair. The idea behind all this is that each sacrifice brings the mother closer to her child again, such that the performance is demonstrative of what a parent would do for the sake of their offspring.

It is, therefore, not for the faint of heart: by the time the mother reaches the final scene, it is a harrowing sight, to say the least. Then there is the music, created live by Frank Moon and Dave Price, each positioned on either side of the stage. The music shifts around in terms of tone and volume, and in a show devoid of spoken dialogue, ‘speaks’ through its dark echoes (for there is no greater musical instrument than the human voice) and throbbing drumming. And, in the end, the dancing and movement is quite phenomenal, with elements of classical ballet even within the increasingly gloomy scenarios. It is consistently rather miserable, with no discernible moments of comic relief, but it is also intense and compelling.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The Mother is a powerful, narrative dance production choreographed and directed by Arthur Pita which has its London premiere at the Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall in June. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s dark tale, The Story of a Mother, this sumptuously designed production stars international dance superstar Natalia Osipova and multi-award winning dancer Jonathan Goddard. This inventive new production conjures up a dangerous, kaleidoscopic world, combining narrative dance and drama. In setting out to save her sick child, a young mother journeys into the unknown to face life and death. Will she succumb to the forces of evil, or will the power of motherhood prevail?

Bird & Carrot presents
A visionary, avant-garde piece of dance theatre
By choreographer, director: ARTHUR PITA
June 20th, 21st, 22nd – London, Southbank Centre’s Queen Elizabeth Hall


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