This beautifully scattered shot and occasionally confusing piece presents a bleak and affecting portrait of mental illness, told through the eyes of the ill woman’s children. In a world that celebrates and idolises maternity, a mot...
This beautifully scattered shot and occasionally confusing piece presents a bleak and affecting portrait of mental illness, told through the eyes of the ill woman’s children. In a world that celebrates and idolises maternity, a mother telling other people to “never have children” still has the power to shock. Beady Eye Theatre’s piece, Cooking Ghosts, never feels as though it shocks for the sake of it, presenting a delicate and sensitive show that examines what drives a mother of three to repeatedly attempt suicide – and ultimately manage to kill herself.
It’s not a perfect piece, but the cast of three weave together past and present with such skill that it is impossible not be caught up in their story. The sense of loss and abandonment is powerfully expressed. In what could have been a clumsy idea, the cast are mostly dressed as babies, interacting with and imitating video footage of toddlers and clutching toys. The poignancy of these children trying first of all not to annoy their mum, and later trying to “cheer her up” or “fix her”, is devastating – it doesn’t need a fancy set or clever script.
The dialogue is sparse; much of the story is narrated over the top of flickering images and projections. One of the cast is pregnant, and images are projected onto her bare stomach. A grown man and woman stage a puppet show, desperate for attention and approval. Sibling rivalries and alliances are laid bare. It’s familiar, comforting stuff, shot-through with the anticipatory dread of trying to protect someone suicidal. The piece is set mostly in the ’50s and ’60s so we see the mother being given electro-shock therapy, “after which she was in black and white”.
Some of the scenes drag on too long, and some of them are a little bizarre – the mother figure is seen by her small children as a bull, and so often wears a huge, horned mask. At several points she is nude, and one poor man in the front row is dragged from his seat and made to bob for apples in the Garden of Eden. As a way of trying to explore mental illness and how it affects the sufferer and their family, it’s pretty successful. Scenes which struck me particularly were those where the sheer joy of children playing in a garden were juxtaposed with the despair of their mother. There are bits that I liked more than others, naturally, but overall, this is a subtle and moving piece about mental health which handles its subject deftly.
Cooking Ghosts is at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol as part of Mayfest until 23 May. Visit the Mayfest website for more details
The post Mayfest review: Cooking Ghosts appeared first on A Younger Theatre.