A visceral and highly physical story of one woman’s experience of childbirth – in all its guts and glory – The Dirty Mother is a performance that demands to be heard says Claire Trolio.
The Dirty Mother, Michelle Hall and The Dirty Others ·
Rehearsal Room 1, State Theatre Centre, 24 January 2022 ·
Battling her way through birth plans, an understaffed British National Health Service, belligerent in-laws, an absent partner and unexpected complications, Michelle Hall brings the story of her son’s birth to the State Theatre Centre stage in her one-woman show The Dirty Mother.
Hall is tired of the taboos around childbirth and motherhood, and seeks to share her story in all its guts and glory. If you aren’t ready for it, then frankly that’s too bad, because this performance demands to be heard.
Just like the feminist punk and riot “grrrl” tracks that pop up in the score, Hall’s brand of feminism is honest, uproarious and shouty – just how I like it.
An audio recording of Hall sharing her birth story at Barefaced Stories carries the narrative, popping up now and then to tell us how she is progressing. While the recording keeps the story flowing, Hall is able to concentrate on using her physicality to illustrate and expand the anecdotes.
Through dance and physical theatre, Hall conveys the dichotomy of being in and out of control of your body both during and after pregnancy. It’s only right that a work that’s all about bodies is carried along through movement.
The Dirty Mother would be only half the show it is without the on-stage partnership with guitarist Sze Tsang. Tsang delivers the sound through recordings coupled with their live electric guitar. They inhabit the stage with Hall, never detracting and always supporting with a combination of restraint and urgency, providing whatever is needed at any given moment.
Digital-visual director Georgi Ivers and digital-visual artist Megan Hyde also have important parts to play in The Dirty Mother. Digital content – some found and some created for the show – is projected on an ever-present screen, consistently bolstering the narrative.
Co-directors Hall, Alexa Taylor and Danielle Cresp pull these elements together without ever allowing the stage, or the message, to feel crowded. There’s great continuity between the different methods of communication.
Not every part of the show packs the same punch. There are a few times I feel Hall’s dances or songs lessen, rather than add, impact. But overall The Dirty Mother is a relevant and powerful ride.
My hot tip: try to nab one of the front or the elevated seats – there’s a lot of action low to the ground that is obscured from some viewpoints.
Those gaps lead to a loss of momentum and it’s a shame to miss any element of Hall’s visceral storytelling which effectively gives lie to any suggestion that motherhood somehow stifles creativity.
Before the show starts, a pink pram sits on the stage in front of a projected quote from mid-20th century literary critic Cyril Connolly: “There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hall”.
The Dirty Mother confronts Connolly’s pompous remark, and makes it clear that caregivers can and do make good art.
Pictured top: Michelle Hall in ‘The Dirty Mother’. Photo: Georgi Ivers and Meg Hyde
Note: This review was edited 27 January 2022 to acknowledge that Michelle Hall is not only the creator but also a co-director of the work.
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