There’s something truly life-affirming about theatre that entertains and makes you think. Directed by Grace Duggan at the Omnibus Theatre, Clapham, after birth hits that nail squarely on the head. It’s at once foul mouthed, hilarious, visually captivating, moving and thought-provoking.
A life-affirming play about the tragedy and comedy of bringing life into the world
A play about post-partum psychosis was always going to be a tough sell, but this turns out to be its secret weapon. The main character, Ann (Sally Tatum), is an ordinary mum with a colourful past who is verbally freed of social conventions by her psychosis. As a result, she treats us to a scattergun assassination of her family, past, doctors, femininity, misogyny and the cult motherhood. Her psychosis also deftly strips her doctors (Leona Allen and George Fletcher) of their pretences, exposing their intellectual posturing in all its hilarious ‘I’m top dog’ glory.
But these interactions hold a softer truth about what helps those experiencing mental health issues. Amongst the humour there is real care for the characters experiencing this destabilisation of reality; the recognition that they could easily be you or me.
When Ann voices her fears she will harm her baby - a fear I believe every parent has in some dimension - Doctor Upperton (Leona Allen) says with real compassion, “You aren’t going to hurt him, Ann. You’re telling us because you have such an overwhelming desire to protect your baby”.
This level of insight is not surprising given that the work was formed through interviews with mums who have dealt with postpartum psychosis (in collaboration with the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit). Mums like Ellie Ware – one of the first to tell her story to writer Zena Forster – who commented on the end result: “Seeing characters brought to life who are going through something you have experienced really does make you feel less alone. And keeping humour and entertainment at its heart introduces audiences who wouldn’t normally seek out information about postpartum psychosis. But you never know when you might just need an awareness relating to your own health, or that of a friend or family member. That’s why this show is invaluable” (Mental Health Today). Tragically suicide remains the number one cause of maternal death in the first year after giving birth.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this play to any parent and to anyone working with, or caring for, parents - not just as food for thought but because it’s genuinely uplifting; a life-affirming play about the tragedy and comedy of bringing life into the world. As the main character Anne sings “I am woman. I’ll be fine.”
*If you, or anyone you know, is looking for support or help related to postpartum psychosis, please visit https://www.app-network.org/what-is-pp/getting-help/*