Edinburgh Fringe 2019
Katie Guicciardi’s solo performance is a thoughtful reflection on both the joys and loneliness of being a new mum. Inspired by true events, her drama explores our complex relationship with “help” – our desire to give it and our need to seek it for ourselves – in an increasingly isolating society. Directed by Lisa Cagnacci (Artistic Associate, Stephen Joseph Theatre).
A new mum nurses her baby in her Hackney flat; funded maternity leave, a husband with an income, a flat they own, a trendy part of London. They’ve got everything haven’t they? OK, it isn’t great when a homeless man decides to set up camp by the front wall of their house, and not in a quirky, life affirming, Lady in A van sort of way, and it’s not ideal that the baby’s dad’s job takes him away overnight, or every t-shirt you own is covered in baby vomit, and you don’t sleep. Ever. In fact new mum-dom is far from the loveliness you imagined when what you’ve got is post-natal depression and the only thing keeping you going is an unhealthy obsession with the homeless man living on your doorstep who you think might actually be getting a better deal than you, with kind attention from random strangers and input from social services.
This is the premise of actor and writer Katie Guicciardi’s first full length play in which she also portrays the new mother who should, according to all she has read, be relishing her bundle of joy not struggling with this strange life that she nobody has warned about. Post-natal depression used to be a taboo topic and mothers suffering with it were less understood but now there is less judgement and more understanding (although more is needed) so at times the script is a little underwhelming in how it tackles material familiar perhaps from Mumsnet bulletin boards or a listen to Women’s Hour.
The character’s obsession with her front garden squatter, comparing him to the urban foxes so prevalent in inner cities, is an interesting device but a greater exploration in the text of this irrational fear would give it more depth. Guicciardi’s performance gives us the absence of joy this new mum feels, as well as a touching gentleness with her baby, but at times it is too dialled back. I wanted to see greater tension and anxiety to draw the audience into her world of confusion and despair. Perhaps director Lisa Cagnacci and Guicciardi could work more on the physicality of how depression manifests itself in the body; together they have already convinced us of a nursing mother with a tiny baby which is not easy to do.
Guicciardi is a good actor and when her script allows her to, for example playing a weary London cop, we get to see this. More of this would be great; her talent would easily portray the errant husband and the homeless man, to provide contrast to the isolation of the mother. At the moment this hour-long show can be one-dimensional in parts and would benefit from more changes of pace and tone.
The set by designer Alex Marker is a delight. A functional doll’s house pulls us into the reality of a Hackney street as well as providing a symbol for the domestic pleasure we are told being a mum will bring. Clever too is the use of a malleable toy rabbit as a baby stand in.
Overall, while not a unique exploration of troubled motherhood, this is a thoughtful, if sad, portrayal of a woman not getting what she hoped for post-birth.