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Mother (Moeder) review at Barbican Theatre, London – ‘uncanny dance theatre’

A scene from Mother (Moeder) at Barbican, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton A scene from Mother (Moeder) at Barbican, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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There’s nothing comforting about Mother (Moeder), by Gabriela Carrizo and her company Peeping Tom. In this strange and unsettling piece of dance theatre, laced through with deadpan humour, the mother figure isn’t a specific source of succour and maternal wisdom. She appears in various guises, and gore – the squelching stuff of life – is often attendant (emphasised by onstage foley techniques involving cloths and buckets of water).

Yet Amber Vandenhoeck’s set simultaneously evokes the aseptic interior of a museum – and thus the way that we memorialise the institution of family. The clean grey walls are lined with paintings of family figures, including one of the ultimate impossible matriarch herself – the Virgin Mary.

In one startling sequence, a woman sticks her hand into a landscape painting, the canvas giving way like a soft mucus membrane – when she pulls her bloodied arm out, there’s a man’s head at the end of it, his jaw clamped around her fist.

There’s a lot of ooze emitted here – it’s a clever body-horror that explores the visceral fears, rather than the cosy ideals, that surround motherhood. A pregnant nurse with a pair of elongated plastic arms is taken over by a juddering, boneless physicality – contorting into deep back bends, she then scuds across the stage with seemingly sponge-like ankles.

Carrizo touches on the reversal of roles that comes with age, as a son guides his elderly chuntering mother. Elsewhere, a baby in an incubator becomes a nude adult woman crammed into its plastic confines. It’s a riveting Freudian field-day.

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Riveting, imaginative dance theatre that explores the uncanny side of motherhood