The Mother

EICC, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

four stars

Natalia Osipova is already on-stage, and in character, as the audience start taking their seats. A small figure, in a simple white nightdress, she shifts from fitfully dozing on the bed to anxiously tending a fractious, wailing baby in a cot – it’s a finely-tuned precursor to the dark, haunted narrative that follows. Choreographer Arthur Pita’s gothic-inflected take on The Mother – given its World Premiere in Edinburgh - has close connections to Hans Christian Andersen’s original grim tale, but, as the closing scene reveals, he has made that journey of self-sacrifice into a hallucination, rooted in a woman’s dread of motherhood’s challenges and her potential inability to cope.

Osipova is in her expressive element here. Fragile, yet fierce as she pursues Death, who has taken her baby, through seemingly endless doors and through the rooms that designer Jann Seabra has installed on a revolving set. Bedroom, kitchen, bathroom – all three have a spartan feel that whispers of utilitarian communal living in the former Soviet Union.

Each space is restrictive, claustrophobic: adding menace to the encounters with various, implacable characters – a tyranical old babushka, an elegant woman wielding gardening shears, a witch and Death among them - who test her cruelly in body and mind. Pita’s guignol imagery intensifies as, snared in vicious rose-thorns, her struggling body bleeds.

She will be blinded, tormented, yet she battles on. Pita’s off-pointe choreography skews Osipova’s balletically graceful limbs into spasms of wrenching anguish, delivering her betweentimes into the manipulative arms of Jonathan Goddard who plays every other character with shape-shifting charisma. He morphs from folklorique babushka to elegant rose gardener (in high heels) to slinky witch and prowly, snake-slithery lover – always a superbly dark force to Osipova’s compellingly complex mosaic of emotions and movement styles. Live music composed/played by Frank Moon and Dave Price is by turns lyrical, abrasive, screeching – a mood board for Osipova’s dramatic long dark night of the soul.