THEATRE REVIEW: Mother’s Ruin @ Waterside Art Centre
WORDS BY ELLEN ROGERSON
The reason I love cabarets so much is the variety of acts you get to see squeezed into a couple of hours; singers, writers, actors, poets, stand up, dancers, the whole shebang, and you never know exactly what’s waiting for you until the auditorium lights go down. Being enveloped by the grotesque DIY glamour really satisfies my romanticised longing for Weimar Berlin, the arts, the culture. Life is a cabaret, old chum. So I was not left wanting after seeing ‘Mother’s Ruin’ at Sale’s Waterside Art Centre.
Beneath an aptly tacky disco ball, the stage was graced by many fabulous queer performers. The compere for the evening, Timberlina, lead us through the night with some fantastic eco-themed anthems, strummed enthusiastically on her guitar, such as Milk and Packaging. Her satirical take on middle-class eco-warriors was a delight. My favourite quip of hers being directed at an audience member, who after complaining they couldn’t find a local Greggs that sold vegan sausage rolls, suggested they move to a more upmarket area and start paying more council tax. We then dived head first into act one.
The stand out performances for me were given by Victoria Firth, a performer and theatre-maker, and Jackie Hagan, a comedian and also a theatre maker. Victoria spun us a tender re-imagining of ‘The Ugly Duckling’ which works as an allegory for a young person discovering that they are transgender. It was so refreshing to hear a story about trans identity that balances the portrayal of a supportive parent and a triumphant ending through finding acceptance, with the trials of enduring bullies and the impact of not having any answers on the duckling’s mental health. She illuminated the black, white and grey areas of a transgender persons experiences beautifully.
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Despite her work being more serious in nature, Victoria’s performance was the perfect foil to the hilarious tour de force that is Jackie Hagan. A gay, working class, Liverpudlian amputee and self-proclaimed ‘artisan spam fritter’, Jackie is equal parts your typical ‘funny Northern lass’ and a ferocious activist. Having grown up in a poor Northern town and coming from a working-class background, a lot of her work really resonated with me. I was howling at her observations on having to ‘drag up’ to pass as middle class at networking events, but the truth of it really stung. I also relished the squirming of some clearly guilty audience members as she commented on the reluctance of the middle class to acknowledge, let alone discuss, the concept of class. Yet she never dwells too long on her serious material. Before I knew it she was necking lager out of her prosthetic leg like a trooper and that’s what gave her so much hold over the audience. She is so genuine, so full of heart and doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks. I will forever keep tabs on her upcoming performances.
In the second act, I fell in love with Afshan De’Souza-Lodhi. Although she occasionally seemed a little nervous at first, once she got started it was clear her gift as a writer is undeniable. When exploring both her Muslim and lesbian identity through her poetry, she reveals her fear of losing touch with her culture as her mother’s native tongue is slowly eradicated through submitting to the colonising English language and that she will eventually discover the lube in Afshan’s bedside draw isn’t actually a moisturising hand lotion. My only critique is that her set was a little bit short, I would have loved to see what she could deliver if she was given some more time to fill.
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The other performers on the bill, Patrick Hollis, Aunty Ginger, Donna Matrix and David Mills were all received warmly by the audience, but speaking for myself they just didn’t strike a chord with me in the same way Victoria, Jackie, and Afshan did. This is probably down to a difference of taste since I don’t particularly enjoy spoken word or old-school character based routines, and being a typical Brit I just can’t wrap my head around American humour (sorry David!). Therefore I don’t think I can give a well-rounded critique of their work, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend them as performers, although Donna seemed a little rushed and lacked vocal clarity.
I do want to bring light to the fact that David Mill’s set ended with a joke about a non-binary couple who both used ‘they’ pronouns, which felt completely out of place at an LGBTQ cabaret night. Apart from the joke being fairly tone deaf, it was just plain unfunny and was met with silence by the audience, despite the guffaws of one person in the back row who was clearly plastered. I hope he considers revamping his set before playing another LGBTQ event. Despite the slightly uncomfortable ending, the whole evening was thoroughly enjoyable and would highly recommend seeing future iterations of Mother’s Ruin.