The Mother at Southbank Centre
Visionary director and choreographer Arthur Pita brings Danish prolific author Hans Christian Andersen’s unnerving tale of losing a child to dramatic life, with long-time collaborating ballerina Natalia Osipova and contemporary dancer Jonathan Goddard.
The sleep-deprived mother struggles to calm her ailing infant and calls upon a doctor for help (a gifted Jonathan Goddard) – who turns out to be Death; he drugs her, and steals the baby, thus beginning the mother’s frantic search in a bizarre world. Yann Seabra’s stage design is creative and otherworldly, split into three domestic spaces: the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. These interiors revolve alternately, revealing strange and threatening characters who are the stuff of nightmares. Mother meets a babushka (also Goddard) dressed in the traditional ware, with a scarf round her head, and a face masked by a black shiny disguise. As the baby’s cries resound, and babushka sways from side to side, one expects her to be cradling the infant, but when she turns around, the sounds are coming from a radio. The tone transforms from David Lynch creepy to comical, as both she and the mother dance to traditional Russian music, provided by composers Frank Moon and Dave Price in the wings. Osipova’s frantic demeanour and body language is defined well, as we see the maternal figure attempt to escape but dragged back to the unending horrors.
Along the way, the mother meets many macabre individuals, all depicted by Goddard; the rose gardener who wraps her with thorny roses covered in red paint symbolising blood, a ferryman who removes her eyes and an old lady that takes her jet-black hair. Only one character comes in the form of salvation, that of the lover, but even he turns into the black-clad Death while the mother sleeps. Costumes by Giulia Scrimieri are inspired and vivid, imprinted on the mind long after the finale.
Andersen’s fairytale contains religious undertones and Pita’s dance theatre retains the central themes whilst presenting challenges faced in motherhood, and the threat of bringing an innocent being into the world. Osipova has been described as “one of the 12 greatest ballerinas of all time”, and with this production it is clear why. Her leaps and sequences on stage are delivered deftly, while she conveys a maternal realism to the role with candid urgency. Pita’s visceral and darkly evocative interpretation reiterates his flair for creativity, while Osipova and Goddard present their characters in captivating style, making The Mother a resonant dance theatre piece that’s both tense and visually arresting.
Photos: Ambra Vernuccio
The Mother wass at Southbank Centre from 20th June until 22nd June 2019.
Watch the trailer for The Mother here: