The Mother Load review – moving audio play gives birth to all the feelings

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Daisy-Daisy/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Daisy-Daisy/Alamy

Lynda Radley’s audio play about first-time motherhood starts with a bunch of stereotypes around parenting and gradually, movingly, strips everything away. We open in an antenatal class with three very different women: architect and anxious mother-to-be Cat (Wendy Seager); twentysomething wellness enthusiast Rowan (Anna Russell-Martin); and the highly strung Mobina (Nalini Chetty) who has been to every antenatal class in the book. As the babies arrive one by one, meticulous birthing plans are swept aside and the messy reality of early motherhood is ushered in with conviction, warmth and, thankfully, plenty of humour.

The play, presented by Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum and Pitlochry Festival theatre for the Sound Stage series, is split into three parts. Each mum narrates her own section, sharing her private thoughts and fears. Radley captures the strangely competitive atmosphere that can emerge in antenatal classes, which Cat describes brilliantly as: “like The Hunger Games with haemorrhoids.” As Cat whispers to her unborn baby, the intensely private relationship between a mother and her “bean” is conjured into life.

Mobina is haunted by her traumatic labour, and director Isobel McArthur and sound designer Jon Nicholls do a great job of reflecting the sensory overload of her endless sleepless nights. She is bombarded by noises: every cry sets her on edge and every bleep of the alarm sparks memories of the hospital – in labour, in pain and afraid.

Radley has a knack for succinctly capturing the intensely conflicting emotions that most new mums experience. Mobina struggles to love her child as she feels she should: “I am happy to see her – aren’t I?” Radley’s script is also suffused with empathy and laughter. Mobina rocks up at Rowan’s baby shower and, fuelled by her first drink in two years, begins to unravel in spectacular fashion (her description of vagina-themed bunting is a particular highlight). Later, Radley captures the selfless way fellow mothers will often look out for each other. When Rowan’s baby falls ill, her friends rally round in a display of instinctive compassion that left this new mum in tears.

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