Stacey Sampson, Rachael Walton and Partus Company
Third Angel and Sheffield Theatres
Crucible Studio

Cast of Partus, rehearsal image Credit: Chris Saunders

Partus is a devised show by Third Angel Company with content taken from interviews with parents, midwives and obstetricians, which tell birth-related stories to prepare and inform women, their partners and medical practitioners about the breadth of experiences involved.

The stories include "The Midwife who arrived after the Birth", "The Woman who refused to depart from her Birth Plan", "The Girl persuaded not to abort then deserted by her Boyfriend" and "The Nearly Disastrous Premature Birth". The company stops short of including stories about babies who die.

The tone of the show is generally light-hearted and humorous, and the narratives are interspersed with episodes of song, mime and movement often with satiric intention. One member of the cast being forced to push her head through the neck of a too-small sweater suggests the enormous effort involved in getting through the birth canal, while inflated balloons represent the bursting of the amniotic sac.

The content and language of the show is frank, calls the relevant organs by their proper and popular names and doesn’t duck the messiness of the birth process. It is certainly informative, even for women who have given birth. It was good to see a number of men in the audience.

The setting of the show sets up curious resonances. The Crucible studio is opened up to suggest a multi-functional communal space with uncomfortable fold up wooden chairs set in a circle. This might be a space for a church or an AA meeting, certainly a place where confidences are exchanged or unspoken experiences revealed. A confessional space. The usually harsh lighting confirms this impression.

The team of four actresses take turns to reveal the birth narratives selected from the initial research. Rachael Walton has an anchoring role, and there are strong performances from Laura Lindsay, Denise Pitter and Stacey Sampson, who variously explore the apprehension, unexpected calmness, experience of pain and occasional dark comedy of the events portrayed. There are some interesting moments when the audience is courteously invited to participate.

The company maintains the conceit that this is an informal meeting to which we, the audience, have also been invited, by serving up tea and biscuits in the studio during the interval. All very appropriate and inclusive, just like the WI.

In the second half of the show, the company turns its attention to broader issues, like the increasing scarcity and high drop-out rate of experienced midwives from exhaustion, stress and related illnesses, with its knock-on effect on women in labour.

Third Angel is a Sheffield based company which has presented more than ten shows at the Crucible Studio since 1997 and toured throughout the UK, and also to mainland Europe and the Americas. It has a commitment to "creative and life-long learning projects". Partus is a stimulating and informative example of their work.

Reviewer: Velda Harris

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