The Mother, starring Natalia Osipova and Jonathan Goddard had its World Premiere performance tonight in Edinburgh at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC), Pentland Theatre. This production in association with “Pleasance Theatre Trust” (Pleasance at EICC) is here for a strictly limited run of two nights only (21st and 22nd December) so, sadly, by the time you read this review, there will be only one chance left to catch this performance in Edinburgh, but if you can get a ticket still, take the opportunity as this production is something very special. Pleasance Theatre itself is well known to many people both in Edinburgh and world wide for its long association with The Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
This production of “The Mother” is based upon Christian Andersen’s “The Story of a Mother” and the list of creative people involved in its development read like a dream list for any dance/theatre production.
Starring Natalia Osipova & Jonathan Goddard
Director and choreographer Arthur Pita
Original music Frank Moon and Dave Price
Dramaturge Anna Rulevskaya
Set Designer Yann Seabra
Lighting Designer David Platter
Presented by London-based company Bird&Carrot Productions, founded by Alexandrina Markvo
Even with a collective of talent like “The Mother”, this still is a production that is going to divide people into two opposing sides; there is no middle ground here for anyone to safely stand upon. Traditional Fairy Tales, and particularly those of Hans Christian Andersen with so often no happy ending, can be a very dark place for anyone to venture into, but this adaptation of the story is not just dark, it is the disturbing world of many of our darkest nightmares. There are probably many psychiatrists and psychoanalysts out there who could make a whole career out of trying to analyse this work.
“The Mother” is a very “immersive” production and as an audience we are immediately drawn into the world of a mother and her despair for her very sick child by Natalia Osipova being on stage pacing anxiously around the room and keeping a watchful guard over her “world”. This is not the Natalia Osipova of classical ballet starring roles coming out in costume and make-up to look unrealistically beautiful on stage, but a very dramatic and distraught mother dressed in a very simple and plain nightdress. Wordless, and with only facial expressions and body movement to convey to us the inner emotions of this woman on the very verge of her own sanity, Natalia immediately makes us believe in not only her world, but her “mother”. The technical dance abilities of Natalia Osipova need no introduction to many reading this review and so much has been written about those abilities over the years but, for me, this is what makes Natalia Osipova one of not only the greatest dancers of her generation, but of all time - a magical ability just to stand on stage, do so little, yet so much , somehow not only to breathe life into her character, but for the duration of that performance actually become that person on-stage.
Anyone who has seen Natalia Osipova perform on some of the largest stages in the world will be immediately struck by how small the performance space for this production is. In this world, small and almost claustrophobic room settings leave very little performance space, but what is done with that space is amazing. Many of these rooms, and more open spaces represented in the space on stage, are truly dark in both design setting and feeling. This is so often a world not just of nightmares, but somehow tapping into a far darker subconscious of our deepest terrors, and some moments in this story I think pass even that point.
Amidst this world of terror and choices that no “mother” (not anyone in fact) should ever have to make, Natalia Osipova gives a performance that as well as being full of power and emotion is also full of effortless grace and fluidity allowing her at times to be almost floating free form in a sea of terror and sometimes joy that she now finds herself trying to swim in. Here we can share with Natalia her obvious love of dance in many different forms, but also more often than not her helplessness as “The Mother” loses so much of herself to this dark and disturbing world and the people that she meets along the dark roads of her journey.
In total contrast to “The Mother” and Natalia as a performer is a truly at times disturbing performance by Jonathan Goddard (who performs multiple roles here). There is through physical movement and sheer force of on stage presence by Jonathan here a real sense of unease to his characters, and I hope I never meet any of them in my worst nightmares.
Choreography, visuals and music all combine here to create something very special. There are so many layers to this work that one viewing of a performance is simply not enough to do much more than skim the surface of its deep and dark waters. We shift here effortlessly from the worst fears and desperation of a mother willing to do anything to get her child back to a story at the very heart of our beliefs in God and life, and the religious symbolism of rose thorns tearing into flesh is a powerful visual here.
Natalia and Jonathan are obviously the visual centres of this on stage world, but so much of not only the feel of this production, but its whole atmosphere, is due to inspired music by the gifted composers and multi instrumentalists Frank Moon and Dave Price who have created truly original and powerful music for this production. Positioned at left and right of the stage, Frank Moon and Dave Price are also performing their music live.
Good use of limited space and the requirements for multiple room settings are achieved here by the use of a revolving stage, and for the most part (as with all revolving stages) it works well as the only viable way not only to get the stage settings required into the limited stage space available, but change settings quickly. This is a world of rooms though, and Natalia Osipova does go in and out of a lot of doors here. Set Designer Yann Seabra has though given us a visually disturbing world for our fairy tale to be performed in.
The only problem with “The Mother” is that it is only here for two nights. There is always though the short film production of “The Mother” to look forward to.
Review by Tom King