What are we looking for with a night at the theatre? To see something new, or be moved? Maybe just to have a laugh, or all of the above! Theatre can challenge our preconceptions and open us up to new ideas, and that’s exactly what Theatre Re are on a mission to achieve every time they come to the stage.
Theatre Re are a company who address sensitive but essential life experiences, and translate these through the lens of performance. As Guillaume Pigé (Artistic Director of Theatre Re) said in conversation with The Edinburgh Fringe, ‘I think theatre is a very good training ground for what happens or what can happen in life; as if it provided a large scale dress rehearsal for life’.
This ability is put to use in their new show BIRTH – a fantastically moving piece of physical theatre which follows the life journey of Sue, Katherine and Emily. These are three generations of women from the same family who throughout the show explore secrets and share fundamental life experiences. It’s a concert with live music, and a wordless visual piece of dance with magical elements of illusion. It also deals with the taboo subject of child loss.
While the show is not wholly about the experience of child loss, the topic sparked an interesting line of interrogation in the company’s creative process. They initially focused on secrets within families and discovered the world of psychogenealogy, which recognises the parallels between our own lives and those of our ancestors, and how traumas might be subconsciously passed down like memories. This led the company to study their own family trees and one thing their histories all had in common was pregnancy loss. Interestingly, the idea of losing a child was also something that consistently came up in their improvisation sessions without ever intentionally looking for it.
WTM audiences who saw Theatre Re’s fantastic production, The Nature of Forgetting will know that the company is rigorous when addressing a subject matter. Indeed, every time they start a new project, they collaborate with a wide range of theatre and non-theatre makers. While the previous show led them to investigate experiences of Dementia, BIRTH had a 16-month development period within which they collaborated with UCL Neuroscience Professor Kate Jeffery and Dr Graeme Forbes, lecturer in philosophy at the University of Kent. Both shared their views on the company’s original question: when does memory begin? These discussions fuelled their first steps towards creating the show.
The company also undertook extensive interviews and workshops by collaborating with Anyone Everymum (organisation supporting women and families in their journey through birth) and later Aching Arms (a nationwide baby loss charity run by a group of bereaved mothers). Both offered an insight into what it means to lose a life and ensured that the show was, as Pigé puts it, ‘a faithful representation of what some women and families go through without being patronising nor sentimental’.
While in the UK an estimated 1 in 4 pregnancies end in loss during pregnancy or birth, this is not the central thesis of the show. Instead, it’s used to help people ask questions of another’s experience; how this can ‘help develop people’s empathy for those who have experienced such a loss. It will also be important to see how the work can have a cathartic impact on audience members who have, and then how that might help them start a discussion about it’. This show is about where memory begins, life, family and what it is that you inherit from your parents and grandparents. For Theatre Re, performance most importantly offers an avenue to express shared life experiences and talk openly about them. Even challenging or taboo ones.
What will audiences come away feeling after a night of Theatre Re’s special brand of physical performance? Hopefully understanding the story of Emily’s family, and how the company has used everything they can to make it a heartbreaking, uplifting, at times humorous, and even life-affirming experience. Not only this but Pigé says, ‘I hope people come out of the theatre feeling uplifted and reminded about the beauty and extraordinary fragility of life’. We don’t think there’s much more one can ask of a night at the theatre.
Theatre Re’s BIRTH is at the Connaught Theatre on Friday 8 October 2021, 7:30pm. Tickets are available via www.wtm.uk/events/birth/
For more information on some of the subject matter explored in this article, support is available through www.achingarms.co.uk/