In childbirth can anyone hear you scream?

26 April 2022

Courageous in its honesty, Earthside is a vital but exhausting journey through the motherly rite of passage, writes Varnya Bromilow.

Earthside, Kaitlin Tinker and Acid Tongue ·
The Blue Room Theatre, Friday 22 April ·

What’s harder – giving birth or doing a one-woman show?  The birth of my son was a real shocker, but I still might go with one-woman show.  

For Kaitlin Tinker, the question is specious. Over 60 minutes, the creator and performer of Earthside shares an unsparing and frankly terrifying account of the birth of her son. Billed as postnatal sci-fi, Earthside treads an uneasy line between dark comedy and vulnerable truth-telling.  

As a tribute to Sigourney Weaver’s Alien moviesthis theatre work, directed by Libby Klysz, is not a comfortable ride, nor is it meant to be.

Tinker hails from Sydney’s vibrant burlesque scene, and the show opens with an image of her, tassels-a-flinging, in her pre-bub glory days. I guess if your starting point is burlesque and stripping (Tinker has done both) a one-woman show seems positively timid by comparison.  

Confessional theatre is in many ways the polar opposite of those flashy arts. Whether you’re shaking your sequins or your booty, it’s not really your core self on stage, is it? In Earthside, Tinker lets it all hang out in an entirely different way – there’s no holds barred here, nothing left unsaid. In this show, she may have all her clothes on, but her inner life is laid bare for all to see.

The common experience of a traumatic birth is an important and criminally under-discussed topic. I have friends, as most women do, whose genitalia has been literally ripped asunder from giving birth. I know others who now need to wear pessaries to keep their vaginas in place. The mental toll is more openly acknowledged, but still routinely written off as “the baby blues”. 

Kaitlin Tinker amid Eoin O’Briain’s ‘retro masterpiece’ set. Photo: Daniel Grant

In this context, Tinker’s work is a welcome contribution to a discussion long overdue. One of the stranger developments in contemporary mothering is a stridency around natural birthing, breastfeeding and parenting styles. A troubling orthodoxy has sprung up about how we should birth, how we should feed, how we should train our babies to sleep. 

For Tinker, filled to the brim with idealised plans and stories from others about their wondrous experiences, giving birth was frankly devastating. From an arduous labour, the pain brought on by a posterior birth and staff who ranged from indifferent to callous, hers was an experience that she is, understandably, still processing.  

On opening night, the show feels as raw as the feelings presented. The tie-in with the Alien franchise and its gutsy heroine is clever, but the switch between furious confessional and intergalactic comedy is at times abrupt. It isn’t that the jokes aren’t funny – “forceps of patriarchy” is among the moments of dark glee – more that what she is asking of the audience is a little too ambitious. At times it is too much to witness Tinker’s pain and then be asked to laugh it off a moment later.

The set, built by Eoin O’Briain, is a retro masterpiece – a space hatch replete with bleeping keyboard and monitor. I assume he is also responsible for the awesome space helmet (and if so, does he take orders?) 

Two dance sequences choreographed by Storm Helmore are remarkably effective at communicating Tinker’s pain – her body rolling across the walls, coiling into tight formations, flaring in desperation. There are times when I want the show to make the full transition into dance work punctuated by narrative, rather than the other way around. Tinker’s sense of joyful release in the burlesquey coda to the show makes it plain that dance is her natural medium.            

Thoroughly courageous in its honesty, but a little too brutal to be funny, Earthside is a vital but exhausting journey analogous to the motherly rite of passage it portrays. 

Earthside continues until 7 May 2022

Pictured top: Kaitlin Tinker in ‘Earthside’. Photo by Daniel Grant

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Author —
Varnya Bromilow

Varnya Bromilow is a happy dilettante who has worked as a journalist, advocate, oral historian, teacher and train driver. She spent 15 years with the ABC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and The West Australian and enjoys writing fiction. She loves guinea pigs and the thrill of a good slide.

Past Articles

  • Creating a wonder-filled world for kids

    Sensorium Theatre has been making work for young people with disability for 12 years, and now the zeitgeist is finally catching up, writes Varnya Bromilow.

  • The joy (or not) of comedy

    “While kids are an easy laugh when it comes to scatological matters, they’re also ruthless when it comes to finding people unfunny. There’s no one in a junior audience laughing because they think they’re supposed to laugh.”

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