Writers: Kat Francois, Deanna Rodger, Michelle Roche and Rosie Poebright
Director: Rosie Poebright
The experiential podcast is blurring the boundaries of audio drama and interactive experience in which the listener becomes a participant in the unfolding story. Those like Rafella Marcus’ You Play are an incredibly sophisticated means of engaging the imagination while others lean closer to mindfulness and immersion apps. The first Play Inside collection Other Mothers developed by Splash & Ripple and WeRebel sits somewhere in between.
Available as individual stories or in a newly released omnibus edition, Other Mothers collates four female stories inspired by the experience of the writers or their communities. Dealing with pregnancy, IVF and sexuality, the audience is taken into the minds of Zoe, Meesh, Shan and Dee as they face an important moment in their lives, while the narrator provides instructions on moving around your home where you can mimic the gestures of the characters to create a more involved experience.
Written by Dianna Rodger, the strongest of the four stories focuses on the heavily pregnant Dee who is given 10-minutes to herself as the washing cycle concludes. Unable to relax, the sound effects of her toddler, the ticking clock and the sinister insistence of the music intrude on her stream of consciousness as Rodger explores the transition from carefree woman to responsible mother of two stuck in a loop of laundry cycles.
Performed with a natural ease by Michelle Roach, the audience empathises with the overwhelming feelings afflicting Dee, as Rodgers examines the relationship between family pressure and mental health – ‘there is no front, there is always more road’, Dee exclaims. Roach makes the most of Rodger’s richly descriptive constructions in creating Dee’s voice with reference to her open plan house as a ‘marmite and strawberry jam sandwich’ sounding credible and relatable.
Kat Francois’ reflections on physical pain is also particular effective as her character Shan – voiced by Carol Walton – takes the audience into her experience of intense womb cramps and a debilitating medical condition. Touching meaningfully on Shan’s single and child-free lifestyle, at 45, she has no regrets, but the ongoing consequences of her discomfort is tempered with the physical sensation of the cool hallway or bedroom window as any semblance of a ‘normal’ life is subsumed by the intensity of Shan’s agony.
The other two pieces are less convincing, and while both Zoe and Meesh take the audience into the mind of another woman they both feel a little stagey. Written by Roche, Meesh debates whether or not she really wants a child having undergone IVF alone with a donor while waiting for the pregnancy test results. There are interesting layers here about wanting to feel ‘normal’ by having a family and fears of repeating parental patterns, but occasionally too expositional about the IVF process, the performance style is not quite natural enough to reflect a woman talking to herself.
Rosie Poebright’s final piece has a more tangential motherhood link, focusing on a woman recently in a same-sex relationship for the first time who needs to visit her mother in the hospital but becomes distracted by thoughts of her new lover. Collectively, Other Mothers’ focus on the female body creates mixed feelings; these are honest stories about a complex relationship with female biology, yet defining most of these women and their lives by their reproductive organs feels surprisingly reductive. But it will be interesting to see where the Play Inside series goes next.