Writer and performer Emma Jerrold could be described as something of a hot property at this year’s Fringe. After crowdfunding her first Edinburgh show she’s been receiving plaudits from big names like Olivia Coleman and Emma Thompson, as well as rave reviews from The Stage. These accolades are well deserved;
Entertaining and eye-opening, arguably the two most important ingredients for a fantastic Fringe show.
If we’re honest, most of our ideas about being a new mother are fairly airbrushed. We expect a powerful and unconditional love at the first sight of the tiny, wailing child to get new mothers through the sleepless nights and gruelling 24/7 baby-care. Spoken word poet Hollie McNish has recently risen to prominence for rubbing some of the gloss off motherhood and laying bare the expectations and stigmas young mothers face. Jerrold goes one step further, asking what the first few weeks with your newborn would be like if you didn’t love your baby.
Jerrold has spoken about how the show was largely drawn from personal experience, which is probably why it all feels so remarkably real. Jerrold’s character gives us a comprehensive account of her first few weeks as a mother, sharing both her frustrations with her friend Naomi who seems to take to motherhood naturally and her decision to flee from home after concluding she can’t take any more.
There’s tenderness and touching humour in Jerrold’s monologue alongside its uncompromising honesty, as well as some surreal flights of fancy (Jerrold has a background in sketch comedy and stand-up). In stand-up shows the extended jokes can often seem a little contrived, but Jerrold’s routines feel both inventive and perfectly natural. When she equates going out with the baby to a Crystal Maze challenge, the hilarious conceit is tempered by her character’s sense of entrapment and cabin fever, especially when she later retreats home in embarrassment after a botched public breastfeed.
My only niggle with this otherwise superb piece is that telling the story in reverse can be a little confusing, and isn’t entirely successful as a structural device until an immensely satisfying (and simultaneously very sad) dollop of dramatic irony at the monologue’s conclusion. Aside from this Broken Fanny is pretty much faultless.
It’s an incredibly brave thing to admit that you don’t love your baby, and the point Jerrold makes is that this shouldn’t be something mothers feel ashamed to share. Societal pressures for women to savour motherhood as the best time of their lives can leave them feeling as isolated and abnormal as Jerrold’s blustering and self-doubting heroine, feeling silently judged by an unattainable standard of perfection.
Jerrold’s honesty as both writer and performer is breath-taking, and Broken Fanny feels like a tremendously important piece of work. It’s entertaining and eye-opening, arguably the two most important ingredients for a fantastic Fringe show.