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Review of Birth at Edinburgh Fringe

BIRTH - courtesy of Rebecca Pitt and Micheal Wharley
BIRTH – courtesy of Rebecca Pitt and Micheal Wharley

Spoken dialogue is scarce in Birth, and where it does exist, it is often drowned out by the show’s music, performed live by its composer, Alex Judd. Private conversations are thus kept largely private, and all that tends to be heard clearly are character names – Katherine, Emily, James, Jasmine. There is commonality between them, as it gradually becomes clear, but the show didn’t exactly ‘have me at hello’: the audience is watching someone reading a book, with no indication of whether it is a Jane Austen novel or a biography. By the end, one could still reasonably assume that Emily (Eygló Belafonte) just enjoys reading.

Perhaps the more discerning members of the audience worked it out before I did: Emily’s mum is Katherine (Claudia Marciano), and Katherine’s mum is Sue (Vyte Garriga). The book makes repeated appearances is Sue’s diary, though why Emily is reading it is not made entirely clear, even if it is hardly a salient point. There’s George and James (both Charles Sandford) and Sam (Andres Velasquez), but this is fundamentally a story about the lives of three generation of women.

Given its reflective nature, this production is sometimes in marked contrast to the hustle and bustle of the Edinburgh Fringe, although sometimes, of course, the lives of mothers raising a family is almost unbearably hectic. There have been many changes in the world in the last century or so, but some things remain constant, and if it is difficult to maintain interest in some of the later scenes because they are very identical reiterations of what has gone on before, that seems to be exactly the production’s point: life is cyclical, and there just are certain things that happen with each new generation that have happened before and will happen again.

Ordinarily, this would make for something more than a bit boring. But there’s a lot going on, and despite the show’s title indicating an emphasis on what happens in the labour ward, the show also explores in surprising detail what goes on after, in the years and decades to come. An argument ensues between a stroppy teenage boy and his parents: after the show, someone remarked to me that she had a strikingly similar conversation with her own son some years ago. She can’t have been the only person with whom a show of this nature struck a chord with.

More progressive audience members just might be slightly disappointed that the show does little, if anything, to challenge gender stereotypes – taken at face value, it’s the men who go out to work while the woman sits at the dining room table, alone during the day. The narrative is not, strictly speaking, in chronological order, but the different behaviours exhibited by the characters are fascinating to observe. A young couple leave the stage, hopeful and excited, while the others wait, slightly nervously: they return, utterly dejected. The show does not need to scream, ‘This couple has lost their baby’ – it does not need to. The pain etched on their faces is harrowing to say the least.

This is a striking and memorable portrayal of the highs and lows of motherhood, a truly full-time occupation in which there is neither annual leave nor sick pay, but whose rewards are both unique and common.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Following a sell-out run at London International Mime Festival 2019, Theatre Re presents a powerful, poignant and uplifting visual theatre piece with live music exploring the bond between three generations of women, their shared loss and the strength they discover in each other. Emily is eight months pregnant when she reads her grandmother’s journal. As she delves into her family history, her sense of reality shifts, unveiling a legacy of unspoken tragedies and unconditional love. ‘Sensitive, adept, absorbing’ (Donald Hutera). Previous productions by Theatre Re include The Nature of Forgetting and Blind Man’s Song.

Pleasance Courtyard
16th- 25th August 2019


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