Muvvahood - Theatre Review

@DavidCameron Myself and @addyjulie cordially invite you to verbatim show #muvvahood @TristanBates Mon 11ith April #FirstFestival #singlemums

David Cameron hadn’t responded to the tweeted request projected on the screen before the show but was there in spirit in the form of a photograph, together with framed pictures of six children or young families. The families of the women who contributed to the stories.

Libby Liburd bounces on stage and hits us with the assumptions and statistics on single parenthood. That single parents are all young feckless teenagers raising the next generation for prison whilst living off the state in comfort. But that, in fact, only 2% of single parents are teenagers; 1 in 4 children are growing up with a single parent and 91% of those single parents are women. That single parent families are twice as likely as couple parents to be living in poverty despite over half working, many of them full time. She then goes on to dissect the shifts in policy and benefits since this government came to power with blinding clarity showing just how hard it is to cope and stay afloat as a single parent – even working full time most will be about £40 short of the minimum income standard and more than a quarter are suffering from some form of food poverty.

Muvvahood is a solo verbatim piece presenting the stories of six single mothers, including Libby’s own. She uses a mix of addressing the audience directly, some media clips, film and music. It is no mean feat to hold an audience’s attention for an hour but she achieved it with panache. A particular strength is her ability to converse with a recording and make it sound completely natural.

Verbatim is a difficult genre, one I find intriguing but at the same time always find myself asking ‘is it theatre?’ ‘have the characters made a journey?’ Perhaps those are the wrong questions, as in this piece it is perhaps the audience who need to make the journey.

The piece is very thoroughly researched and Liburd adopts each of the characters she has created to tell the stories of single motherhood. Each tells us about her child or children, something of why she is a single parent and the struggles she has had to face, how close many are to the edge – ‘you’re on an even keel and then the washing machine goes’.

There is some use of media and different approaches in the storytelling but the pace and presentation of each story is similar. I feel there is scope to make more use of the media to weave the stories together and create a greater variety of pace. Some of the characters are very strong; however, they are not yet consistent. To make the journey into their world we need to feel that the woman talking to us is utterly real; we need to see her world as she sees it, be in her skin and some of the characterisation felt a little contrived. It was often very funny but I wondered if the women who shared those stories would feel comfortable with it.

The programme acknowledges the women who gave their time and their stories – but refers to them as ‘mothers’ thus inadvertently committing the very sin of assumption that so much of the work challenges! It also doesn’t include any information on the process of the research and gathering the stories which I feel is a very important part of the ethical underpinning of any verbatim piece and should be transparent.

It is a powerful and challenging piece; however, it is still a new and there is considerable scope to deepen and extend it – and hopefully, get David Cameron to come and see it.

(c) Kate Saffin

Muvvahood was previewed at a Work In Progress performance at the Tristan Bates Theatre on Monday 11th April at 7pm as part of their First Festival of Solo Performances.
http://tristanbatestheatre.co.uk/whats-on/first-2016--muvvahood

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