A new theatre production about motherhood and mental health hopes to push the stage industry towards adopting more progressive working practices for parents.
Mum is written by mother of two Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, best known for her Olivier award-winning play Emilia, and will be directed by Abigail Graham, who gave birth this year. Many of its entirely female and non-binary creative team are young parents. The play opens in Plymouth before a London run, and provision for childcare and baby-friendly rehearsals have been “part of the conversation” from the start, said Lloyd Malcolm, who hopes that the flexible approach to work that theatres have demonstrated throughout the pandemic will continue when venues reopen.
Job sharing, different arrival times for rehearsals and the use of video conferencing – which have all helped the industry function during the Covid-19 crisis – could continue to “change things for the better for parents and others who find theatres’ working practices inaccessible”, said Lloyd Malcolm, who made West End history with a baby-friendly performance of Emilia in 2019. She praised the approach of Mum’s independent producer, Francesca Moody (whose credits included the stage version of Fleabag), but added that publicly funded institutions should be leading the way, making working structures accessible “for everyone who currently feels shut out from being able to work safely and properly in these environments”.
The theatre industry has made significant progress since the organisation Parents and Carers in Performing Arts was created by actor Cassie Raine and director Anna Ehnold-Danailov in 2015 to address the lack of provision. In 2018, the actor Charlene Ford became the first new mother to job-share a West End role when she returned to work in the musical 42nd Street. Lloyd Malcolm warned that similar advances could be “deemed less of a priority while every organisation tries to get back on its feet” after the long shutdown caused by the pandemic.
Billed as a thrilling psychological drama, Mum runs at Theatre Royal Plymouth from 30 September to 16 October and transfers to Soho theatre, London (20 October-20 November). Lloyd Malcolm, whose children are now aged nine and six, drew on her own experiences of anxiety in early motherhood when creating the character of Nina, who is having her first evening to herself since becoming a mum.
Earlier this year, Lloyd Malcolm wrote one of the 15 films in Battersea Arts Centre’s digital series The Motherhood Project. She said that before having her first child she spent a lot of time preparing for the birth itself but that after returning home “you’re thrust into a period of time which is kind of a mystery … In the middle of it I felt astonished that I didn’t feel ready for it and that nobody had warned me that it was normal to feel as overwhelmed as I did.” Her play explores the mix of disconnect, sleep deprivation, isolation and “terrible fears” that can engulf new parents – all of which has been exacerbated during the pandemic.
New parents develop support groups to share their experiences but early motherhood has not been as readily depicted on stage. Lloyd Malcolm wants Mum to offer hope to new mothers in a similar situation to her character. It is important, she said, for parents to feel safe enough to share their experiences and say that they are struggling. Too many are “terrified of reaching out. We are supposed to be good at this – isn’t this what we’re born to be able to do? Are we failing if we can’t work out why our baby is crying or can’t get them to sleep or breastfeed? All these things can suddenly make us feel like a massive failure.”
Graham said: “I became a mum this year, and I can see my own experience reflected in our protagonist Nina’s story. It’s a real privilege to bring that to life and offer audiences the opportunity to empathise with early motherhood.”