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RashDash: “Motherhood brings a creative freedom which is exciting"

RashDash: “Motherhood brings a creative freedom which is exciting"

RashDash: “Motherhood brings a creative freedom which is exciting" cover photo on Stagedoor
Lyn Gardner talks with the creators of Oh Mother, their new show about parenthood at Soho Theatre

Cyril Connolly’s snobbish but much quoted suggestion that the pram in the hall is the enemy of creativity and good art certainly doesn’t apply to RashDash. Oh Mother was made while its creators were in the throes of early motherhood. It's the latest show from the gloriously gobby female-led Leeds-based company, whose previous shows include Three Sisters – a cheeky and incisive look at dead white male writers, and We Want You to Watch – a piece about pornography created with playwright Alice Birch at the NT. Oh Mother arrives at Soho Theatre this month, offering a tapestry of stories about what it means to take care of someone who depends on you for their survival.

When the company set out to make the show back in 2020, only core member Becky Wilkie was a mother. Since then, she’s had another baby and Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen – her co-conspirators in theatre over the last 12 years – have also given birth. It means that Oh Mother is a very different show from how it was originally conceived. It is right at the coalface of motherhood and in both form and content reflects those early months that often pass in what Greenland so accurately describes as “a feverish dream. You don’t know anything. Things are constantly interrupted. They end too soon, or they go on too long, and there is a constant introduction of new ideas. We went into the process wanting to create something which reflected that feeling.”

The company in Oh Mother. Photos by The Other Richard/Richard Davenport.

Rashdash made a series of failed Arts Council applications to create the show in its original conception, which, when I talked to the company previously, they described as a difficult experience: “You start feeling like you are trying to date someone who keeps giving you a signal that they are just not into you.” The production was finally due to start rehearsal on the day the first lockdown took place. On the same day Greenland discovered she was pregnant, and then Goalen became pregnant three months later, and Wilkie, with her second child, shortly after that.

“Because of that our access point changed and so did our perspective,” explains Greenland. A show which originally had been talked about as a piece about the trio and their own mothers developed further. The arrival of the non-binary composer Simone Seales who co-wrote the songs with Wilkie, and who appears on stage alongside Greenland and Goalen, further shifted the piece.

“There is a lot about gender,” says Seales, “and my vagina comes up a lot in the show. Making the show has provided a really interesting space to explore my relationship with my own mother and navigating the fact that we love each other but we don’t really know each other. There is a weirdness in not really knowing someone who you have known your whole life.”

Goalen says that rather than causing issues, making the show while trying to also care for their babies on a rehearsal schedule of three days a week brought unexpected creative advantages.

“It was drawing from lived experience. Everything that was happening to us outside the rehearsal room could just keep filtering in. Normally being in a rehearsal room feels like being in a very different headspace from the rest of life, but instead we were very much alive to all the wonderful things that were happening with our children. So, the process had a real intensity to it. I thought before having a child that it would be very hard to make art after having one. But it is always hard to make art, and in some ways doing it with the demands of motherhood brings a creative freedom, a playfulness which is exciting.”

It’s not that the work matters any less to them but the company has a different perspective on it.

“My creative practice has always been massively important to me, it has always felt part of my identity,” says Greenland. “It still is. But what I’ve realised is that now my son is in the world my priorities are changed. I know what comes first: I know that if he was sick, I would drop everything to be with him.” Interestingly, like Goalen, Greenland doesn’t think that makes making the art any less important but offers a liberation. “In the past I have tormented myself about artistic failures but now I have something else in my life that is important, and I think that gives you a freedom that can be good for the work. I feel it’s slightly dangerous to say that out loud, but it’s the truth.”

But if there are unexpected creative advantages to having a baby in terms of making the work, it still piles on extra pressure for a currently unfunded company such as RashDash who have been existing for over a decade from a precarious position which means that every project requires not just creativity in the rehearsal room but often numerous funding applications whose writing is arduous, time consuming and entirely unpaid. The company has made an application for core funding in the upcoming ACE funding round, and its ability to keep producing such knotty, thoughtful and inspiring work may depend on their success.

“We have often talked about the company as our baby,” says Greenland. “But we have human babies now. So, we have to be flexible. What we are trying to do is shift the systems around our creative lives rather than trying to work our babies around the systems.” In the world of theatre – where it often feels that the art must come first, whatever the personal cost to artists – that is as radical as the work RashDash make for the stage.

Oh Mother runs at the Soho theatre from Tue 19 Jul until Sat 13 Aug 2022. You can find tickets here

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Lyn Gardner

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