by Charlotte Constable
‘I need to look easy – but not too easy. I need to earn my own living – but not earn more than him…’
Thus reads the text of one of Charlotte Vincent’s collaborations with similarly feminist colleague Liz Aggiss in Vincent’s latest work, ‘Motherland’. Standard feminist talking points, you might say. But ‘Motherland’, played out in its refreshingly rapid 120 minutes, is so much more than that. It delves specifically into the nightmares of motherhood – or rather, the missing out of motherhood – with a close eye on fertility; the grit and gore and every taboo of pregnancy.
The performers range from adolescent to elderly, both male and female, and take us on a harrowing tour of the nasty bits of becoming a woman. 78-year-old Benita Oakley narrates rather objectively the stories of her three birth experiences to a live soundscape of squeaking violin bows on electric guitars and wailing baby imitations. 12-year-old Leah Yeger (who, by the way, is totally captivating as the most vulnerable character, ever-present to witness prematurely some very mature horrors indeed) plays with her hair, seducing us in the same vein as Pina Bausch’s performers in Kontakthof (1985). Her observations of Patrycja Kujawska’s ballsy seduction and overdressing are difficult to watch – precisely, I imagine, as Vincent intended.
Arguably most uncomfortable of all is a scene in which the exceptionally gifted Aurora Lubos sits screaming agonisingly as Janusz Orlik stuffs bloodstained cotton wool under her dress to the sound of crashing cymbals (the performance consistently features inventive live music). But for every few dark, dark statements, there comes some light relief, be it in the nonchalant faces of Scott Smith and Alexandru Catona on their guitar and cello respectively; or in the form of some humorous gender bending – Orlik thrusting his pelvis around whilst singing Nicole Scherzinger’s ‘Right There’ gets the biggest laughs.
I am endlessly surprised by the creative experimentation with music, text and interactive design, which might be charming, were it not so bleak. Several times we see Lubos splash red wine onto the back wall, before pressing against it with a lifted skirt; it then becomes the blood dragged across Oakley’s fingertips, to then be smeared onto her lips. Smith and Catona quickly transform from welcoming pub landlords (‘any ladies in the house?’) to slimy misogynists (‘any sluts?’): such intelligent, subtle attention to semantics with such a potent message.
So choreographed movement is few and far between – it matters not. The smart interdisciplinary nature of the work makes up for that. And when it does show up, it is simple, clear, effective. Robert Clark’s paternal duet with young Yeger is poignant – not overly sugary.
Following a symposium with Vincent two days prior to the performance, I had clear expectations of what I would see: hard-hitting, feminist work. But her excellent casting, careful balance of pain and relief, and positive closing message of fertility (Lubos twirls in the arms of Clark spilling soil from her dress) leave me surprisingly optimistic – and totally satisfied.