[Review:] Baby Blues, Bread and Roses Theatre, London.
Baby Blues, written and directed by Michael Greenwood, is a didactic-expressive performance investigating Post-Natal Depression.
This performance teetered between stylised physical movement and monologues. I will start with this former. Certain movements — such as popping of the chest, and lifting and spinning — became a repeated repertoire, dampening the overall efficacy of the dances. It was often the case, particularly in the later dances, that performers had varying facial expressions. This meant that each performer evoked a different emotion. These should have been either identical or simply neutral. However, as stand-alone pieces, dance sequences were effective. I will point out a particular dance sequence that stood out to me as the most poignant in itself: the one wherein performers each adopted an odd mime-like persona with a wide grin and gloves. This was by far the most perfected of the sequences. Synchronicity and surety of movement made for fluidity and character.
It was more the style that I had an issue with. Whilst a physical movement played out to the right, behind them, performers would monologue their 'experience' as a mother with PND or as an affected relative. Not only did this become repetitive, but monologues were delivered rather unrealistically and almost informationally. Bodily expression differed from realistic to gesticulative to physical. This concoction of body and voice, drifting between realism and stylisation, made the overall acting style encumbered and unrefined.
I believe it would have been better to remove character completely from this performance, to have performers multi-role as different persons having experienced PND personally or second-handedly. Having a few named characters allows an audience to pin the themes expressed in a performance upon that character, to associate it with them and leave it within the world of the performance when they leave the theatre. Whilst the dance sequences did depersonalise the performance, and whilst some multi-roling did take place, the lack of clarity as to if these were specific characters or not made this ineffective. I was also surprised to hear that this was a verbatim performance; this should have been integrated more to add a further poignant and real quality.
The beginning was a clear exemplification of how meaning or aim can be skewed or lost: a section of mimetic performance, the performers playing children making entertainment out of banal household objects; then, a realistic interruption from the supposed father of the children; and then, a stylised dance sequence. In the space of ten or so minutes, three different performance styles have surfaced. We have set the scene with the theme of children as the focus, rather than the PND sufferers which will proliferate the rest of the performance. It is simply too confused.
Lighting was mostly effective, though washes seemed to be used rather haphazardly; for example, a green wash over James Douglas and Mohamed Bangura's characters' meeting the baby seemed random and unsymbolic. Lighting (operated by Alfie Rackley) should be chosen for specific purposes and has specific effects, not to simply differentiate one scene from another with a different lighting mood; I cannot think what green would do here. The little LED lights were an endearing and poignant decision, especially when used in the dance sequence I mentioned above and when placed within the cloth used to imitate a baby. Music (composed by Alfie Rackley) fitted well with the performance and was well-designed — a little repetitive on its loops, though this did not cause a problem for this particular performance which rather warranted that.
The ending, with all performers sat facing the audience and addressing them directly, employed more the performance style I would have expected and felt most admirable and efficacious for a performance with an aim such as this. However, it sat ill with the rest of the scenes and felt severely out of place. Comparing it to the monologue delivered realistically by a performer sat folding clothes, this scene was a random change.
As I said before: alone, mostly all parts of this performance were effective and cleverly realised. However, together, there was a huge confusion of style and aim. What's more, the message we are left with is rather insignificant…seeking psychological help or support from friends is not always a given possibility for sufferers of PND. This performance did not deal with the grittiness of the disorder, the everyday issues this disorder brings for many mothers. For example, the climaxing scenelet where a mother is asked to do one thing and another thing and another thing in a cacophony of her children's orders as they fight with one another — is this not just a representation of a general, stereotypical motherhood, rather than a mother with PND? Waiting lists and loneliness make the message of 'seek psychological help and spend time with friends' redundant for poor and working-class single mothers with more than one child to take care of and preoccupy.