Writer: Emily Beecher
Director: Helen Eastman
Reviewer: Nichola Daunton
Many people have opinions about what makes a good mother, but what makes a good enough one? This is the question at the heart of The Good Enough Mums Club, a project conceived by writer Emily Beecher when she was recovering from post-natal depression. Part musical, part confessional, the play is set in a local mother and baby club and focuses on the lives of five women, struggling to get to grips with the realities of motherhood. The musical begins with an up-beat number that takes the women from the joy/horror of discovering they’re pregnant to the bloody and downright messy experience of childbirth. Beecher’s songs, co-written by Sally Samad, are not afraid to tackle the brutal, bodily effects of childbirth and the irrevocably altered bodies that women are left with afterwards. The songs are strong throughout, with Chris Passey and Amy Carroll’s music weaving seamlessly in and out of the drama.
While the characters in Beecher’s musical are all stereotypical to some extent: there’s the single mum, the perfectionist, the mother with the demon children, they are all fully rounded enough to move beyond their labels. Michaela Ellis’ character Aimee is particularly strong in this regard. The mother of a terminally ill child who is going to die by the age of three, Aimee eloquently describes the struggle of raising a child without a future, something that despite its tragedy, is strangely liberating, as without the worries of education, endless after-school classes and baby Mozart, all that is left to do is love. While Ellis’ monologue is the most affecting moment in the musical, the women, under the strong visual eye of director Helen Eastman, have got the balance between comedy and tragedy just about right, and there are some very tender moments throughout.
Despite the presence of Jade Samuels who plays single mother Flo, the only working class member of the group (she’s wearing leopard print leggings of course) this is a decidedly middle class version of motherhood. The signs are all there from the beginning, from the obligatory Cath Kitson bag that sits centre stage, to the lollipops that each audience member is given. In the play itself, the women are all feeling overstretched, judged by other mothers and struggling to be perfect, particularly Rebecca Bainbridge’s Pam, who has a nanny and takes her children to every after school club imaginable. The trappings of competitive parenting are faced head on though, as each character wonders why they find it so much harder than the other mothers seem to. What is glaringly absent from the script though is fatherhood. While husbands are referred to once or twice, all of the women seem to live in a world where they are the sole carer until their husband comes home from work. While this is no doubt the reality for the majority of modern mothers, the fact that this imbalance of labour may be one of the causes of their exhaustion, is not discussed.
What the musical does best though, is stick up for mothers in a society that so often sees them as a nuisance, whether it’s punishing them for breastfeeding in public spaces, or tutting at them for taking up room on the bus. When they learn to open up to one another, the women all find solidarity in their collective experience and discover that aiming for perfection isn’t such a good idea after all. The women are also very good at involving the audience, and as the show is aimed squarely at other mothers, the feeling of solidarity is all-inclusive, and even extends to a bit of cringey audience participation.
While there are a lot of positive things to say about The Good Enough Mums Club and its aspirations, and no doubt many women will see themselves reflected in the characters and breathe a sigh of relief that they’re not alone, there are some worrying things here too. It would be nice to see a future version that could give women some more options, which could discuss the rôle of co-parenting and careers a bit more, and hopefully move women beyond the trappings of motherhood as a competitive sport.
Photo: Michael Wharley