Birth

Conceived by Guillaume Pigé; devised by Theatre Re
Theatre Re in association with Glynis Henderson Productions
York Theatre Royal

Internationally acclaimed ensemble Theatre Re is not afraid of tackling difficult and nuanced subjects in its work. In The Nature of Forgetting—a critical hit at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago—the company portrayed the fractured memories of a man succumbing to early onset dementia.

Their latest work, Birth, is also concerned with memory, employing a non-linear, often dreamlike narrative to portray the bonds that bind together three generations of women in one family: Sue (Vyte Garriga), Katherine (Claudia Marciano) and Emily (Eygló Belafonte). Emily is eight months pregnant when she reads her grandmother’s journal, which prompts a journey into the past and allows us to see how her life echoes those of previous generations.

I don’t wish to give away too much of the show’s plot, particularly as the company made a point of withholding programmes until the end of the performance. Suffice to say, this is a show that gives due weight to both the joy and pain of motherhood, juxtaposing scenes of domestic warmth with searing moments of grief and terror.

Conceived and directed by Guillaume Pigé, Birth is an imaginative and heartfelt piece of physical theatre. Dialogue is sparse and often muffled, so we rely instead on the actors’ physical expressiveness to follow the relationship between the characters. All of the five performers excel, particularly Eygló Belafonte who serves as the production’s lynchpin.

The production is punctuated with moments of striking visual beauty. Transitions between scenes are accomplished through the use of a giant billowing sheet, allowing cast members to vanish and reappear at almost magical speed. I was particularly struck by one disturbing scene in which Emily’s nightmares are physically embodied as demonic sheet-clad wraiths.

The production is greatly enhanced by Alex Judd’s expressive score and Katherine Graham’s sensitive lighting, both of which support the emotional tempo of the piece.

Theatre Re will be taking Birth to the Edinburgh Fringe (Pleasance Courtyard, 1–11 and 13–25 August) and I urge you to seek it out.

Reviewer: James Ballands