News: Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Athena Stevens, Anya Reiss, Juno Dawson and Lemn Sissay among the line-up for The Motherhood Project

Leading UK artists including Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Athena Stevens and Anya Reiss will join Juno Dawson, Lemn Sissay and Naomi Sheldon among others for The Motherhood Project. Fifteen short films will explore the guilt, joy, absurdity and taboo surrounding motherhood in this online festival of dramatic monologues and personal reflections. The films will be available on the Battersea Arts Centre website from Monday 19th April; all ticket sales will include a 50% donation to Refuge.

Curator Katherine Kotz invited writers, artists and technicians to join forces and donate their time to create exciting new pieces to support vulnerable adults and children affected by the pandemic. Interrogating the relationship between parent and child, autonomy and responsibility, dramatic pieces were contributed by Irenosen Okojie, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Hannah Khalil, Anya Reiss, Suhayla El Bushra in addition to Naomi Sheldon, E.V Crowe, Jodi Gray, and Katherine Kotz.

Alongside them, artists and activists will share their experiences and expectations of parenthood. Actor, writer and disabled rights activist, Athena Stevens talks about the tension between having children and being a ‘reasonable’ woman. Juno Dawson, journalist, author and trans rights activist, discusses bodily autonomy and the relationship between motherhood and womanhood. Kalhan Barath reflects on caring for other people’s children having decided not to have her own.

In between sharing his poetry, Lemn Sissay MBE talks about his relationship with his mother and his journey towards understanding things from her perspective. The poet and playwright Joelle Taylor shares her poem about non-mothers who help raise children. Lakuta vocalist Siggi Mwasote explores her bond with her teenage daughter, escaping an abusive relationship, and how moving to a predominantly white area affected her daughter’s school years.

Creator Katherine Kotz commented: “I set up The Motherhood Project as a way of bringing artists together to help respond to the needs of the crisis. I was keen to engage with new writing on the topic of motherhood because I was pregnant at the time and grappling with my own preconceptions about what lay ahead. With women bearing the brunt of the pandemic’s economic impact while continuing to perform 75% of unpaid care responsibilities, I hope these short films will stimulate discussion about our cultural expectations of women.”

Providing a wide range of specialist services to those experiencing domestic violence, Refuge has experienced an escalating rise in demand during the Covid-19 pandemic. In May, the visits to their website, where it’s possible to request a safe time to be contacted by the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, saw a 950% rise compared to pre-Covid-19. People’s lives depend on them being able to access the specialist services Refuge provides, and now, more than ever, they are endeavouring to provide the confidential support needed.

The monologue programme is as follows:

A Letter to My Baby

Written by Anya Reiss (The Acid Test, Royal Court Theatre).
Directed by Sam Phillips (Broken Meats) and Anya Reiss.
Performed by Tom Rhys Harries (White Lines, Netflix).

A mother’s letter to her son. Written before he could read. And one she hopes he will never will.

Originally written as part of My White Best Friend (and Others Letters Unsaid) at the Bunker Theatre, A Letter to My Baby explores the tangled nature of hope and insecurity as one mother wonders who her son will become as he grows into an adult – where unconditional love gets complicated.

Baby Yoga

Written by Suhayla El Bushra (The Suicide, National Theatre).
Directed by Tim Hoare (Jellyfish, National Theatre).
Performed by Tsion Habte (Sex Education, Netflix).

I look over at the café and I see Jasmine with the baby and some massive plate of leaves in front of her and she looks so far away from me.

Two teenagers; two mothers. When Jasmine finds connection through parenthood with an older, richer woman, Shireen is left unsteady and isolated, rebelling at the idea immaturity is inappropriate in a teenager. This barbed and compassionate piece tells a story of a friendship left unbalanced by new motherhood.

Gunk

Written by Irenosen Okojie (Butterfly Fish).
Directed by Akinola Davies Jr. (Black to Life, BBC).
Performed by Sarah Niles (I May Destroy You, BBC).

A mother laments the choices of a son on the brink, unravelling.

Traversing mental health, blackness and invisibility, Gunk is a subversive exploration of familial bonds and personal autonomy. It is a rallying cry to regenerate ourselves in the face of insidious systemic atrocities.

Inside Me

Written by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm (Emilia, West End).
Directed by Maria Aberg (The Duchess of Malfi, Royal Shakespeare Company).
Performed by Jenni Maitland (Emilia, West End).

There’s graphic and invasive and then there’s the healthcare realities of a body trying to repair after two pregnancies.

This truthful and intimate piece from Malcolm is about the way women are taught to view their bodies, the kindness we demand from others and can’t give ourselves, and the physical effects of childbirth which are frequently unaddressed in the headlong rush of child-rearing.

Number 1

Written by E. V. Crowe (The Sewing Group, Royal Court Theatre).
Directed by Tim Hoare (Jellyfish, National Theatre).
Performed by Landry Adelard (Guerilla, Showtime).

I just wanted my mum to say something.

I wanted my mum to say something about that. I think she is a successful person.

Sort of. My. Number 1.

Excluded after a prank against the girls at his school, one young boy misses a chance to hear from Tinchy Stryder and needs to make amends to his classmates. But when he instigates an opportunity for inspiring women to speak to the year, his mum is prevented from attending.

He just wants her to know she’s his number 1.

Sometimes too late and often unwanted advice to new mothers

Written by Hannah Khalil (A Museum in Baghdad, Royal Shakespeare Company)
Directed by Caroline Byrne (All’s Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare’s Globe).
Performed by Emmanuella Cole (Top Boy, Netflix).

No one tells you anything BEFORE your due date. Nothing truthful or insightful anyway. But once you’ve pushed your babe into the world, everyone has advice, whether you want it or not.

Hannah Khalil remembers some of the words from that fateful time just as she was coming to terms with the huge responsibility of keeping another human alive. This acerbic piece is about trying to get it right when you feel everything you do might be disastrously wrong.

The Queen’s Head

Written and performed by Katherine Kotz (Pop Music, Paines Plough).
Directed by Elin Schofield (Screwdriver, Lyric Hammersmith).

After a disastrous Zoom presentation to her colleagues, one woman is suddenly faced with her own uncertainty about the miracle of life.

This hilarious and outrageous piece boldly expounds on the inherent unfairness of pregnancy, how women’s careers are compromised by parenthood and the failure of modern science to make child-bearing transferrable.

Untold

Written by Jodi Gray (Thrown, VAULT Festival).
Directed by Jennifer Tang, Genesis Fellow at the Young Vic.
Performed by Zainab Hasan (The Welkin, National Theatre).

It’s been a year since they were together, and she hasn’t spoken about it since. Now redefined and set free by the choices she made, a woman decides it’s time to celebrate. She’s telling her story, her way.

Venus of Whitechapel

Written and performed by Naomi Sheldon (Good Girl, Soho Theatre).
Directed by Annabel Arden, co-founder of Complicite.

I know there isn’t a value system in place I know you don’t earn (or not earn) a baby, but at the same time I’m not convinced I deserve one. Two.

A reflection on the monumental changes of the pregnant body and the anxieties that surround pregnancy. Direct, funny, and poignant, Venus of Whitechapel is a snapshot of one woman’s body and mind as she carries twins at 8 months. New life emerging into a world of pandemic; she’s getting ready for a physical revolution.

The Motherhood Project will be available from Monday 19 – Sunday 25 April on the Battersea Arts Centre website.

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