The Motherhood Project review – difficult choices, disparate voices

Arifa Akbar
·2 min read

In one of the 15 monologues here, Juno Dawson observes that motherhood is still conflated with womanhood. It is a crucial point and this series is both a meditation on what it means to be a modern-day mother as well as a woman without children, and goes some way towards peeling the old conflation apart.

Curated by Katherine Kotz as part of Battersea Arts Centre’s online season Wild Times, its mission is important, wide-ranging and well-represented. Morgan Lloyd Malcolm dramatises a busy mother’s relationship with her body (in a piece performed by Jenni Maitland and directed by Maria Aberg). Lemn Sissay reflects on judgments that adopted children can make of their birth mothers. Siggi Mwasote speaks in calm, clear tones about being a mother in an abusive relationship. Anya Reiss’s A Letter to My Baby features a mother’s eloquent and honest message to her “baby boy”, performed by Tom Rhys Harries. An off-camera mother speaks to her child rousingly as the film pans street scenes of black mothers and children in Irenosen Okojie’s Gunk: “Stop trembling in the corner. The system is fucking rigged.”

But too many of these short films feel like morsels rather than nuggets. They range from two to 15 minutes, and either feel unsatisfactory at that length or just not original, artful or penetrating enough. These monologues are mostly static performances that feel a little rudimentary in form, especially after a year in which theatre on screen has become more imaginatively and technically advanced.

A narrator often addresses us directly from the kitchen, walking in a park, lying in bed, but visually it is unoriginal and uneventful. The ideas themselves are interesting and urgent but dramatically the series feels slow and underpowered – an assortment rather than an arrangement that develops its power.

Nonetheless, there are highlights. Untold, written by Jodi Gray and directed by Jennifer Tang, features Zainab Hasan as a woman speaking to her aborted child; it is well acted and deals articulately with the subject matter. Dawson’s reflections on “bodily autonomy” and womanhood are also engaging; when the world identified her as a man, she tells us, she was never once quizzed about the desire for children, “but as soon as I came out and said, ‘I’m a woman’, the follow-up question after ‘What’s your name?’ is ‘Do you want kids?’”

Fifty per cent of ticket sales from The Motherhood Project are to be donated to the charity Refuge. To that end alone, this is a worthwhile and admirable project. But it is ultimately a bricolage of motherhood that never quite becomes more than the sum of its parts.

The Motherhood Project is available online until 25 April.