Domestic Labour: A Study in Love

A domestic drama in a literal sense, 30 Bird’s abstract piece circles themes of cultural identity, sex, politics… and who does the washing up.

Many fascinating ideas are raised by the production, but once these issues are invoked there is very little development beyond that.

The question of ‘women’s work’, of domestic chores and childbirth, set apart from the perceived masculinity of the revolution in Iran, is a recurring motif. Domestic Labour tells the fragmented tale of an English woman, her Iranian husband and their daughter, set against the burgeoning feminist movement of the 70’s and its impact on household life. Despite the intriguing premise, the story doesn’t progress beyond a stream of individually interesting vignettes that don’t quite hang together.

The stage is cluttered with mundane household appliances that are transformed into instruments of war, a vacuum cleaner is hoisted onto the shoulder like a rifle, a bike is firmly wedged into the slats of a portable radiator, the tyre inflated until it explodes violently. The three female performers raise dust tornados with each dancing step, mimicking the clouds and debris of explosions, except that the dust comes from vacuum cleaner bags rather than bombs.

This gently innovative use of props makes for an interesting spectacle, even if at times the precise motivation remains unclear. I am still baffled as to why at one point the actors take their trousers off and run around the stage like children playing tag. I’m also unsure what was intended during a moment in which vacuum cleaner dust is blown into one actor’s face as she frantically pedals the bike, yet it made for an intriguing visual, if one deeply uncomfortable for any asthmatics in the audience. A television screen shows clips of Johnny Guitar, the only western in which two women have a gunfight. This perhaps invokes the idea of women’s rights being a form of militancy, the introduction of women into a previously masculine sphere.

Many fascinating ideas are raised by the production, but once these issues are invoked there is very little development beyond that. This slightly scattergun nature is unfortunately a frequent shortcoming of a play that, while visually compelling, remains too opaque and abstract to truly warm to. 

Reviews by Laura Francis

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Performances

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The Blurb

War, bicycles and the withdrawal method. A love story: man and woman, East/West, the mundane and the monumental, the personal and the political, the dust behind the bed and the Iranian baby boom. A love story told through the nitty-gritty of daily life - past girlfriends, marriage, Islamic law and Brigitte Bardot - as a man and his absent wife negotiate the very domestic battle over who does the washing up. Created by award-winning 30 Bird, Domestic Labour is inspired by 1970’s feminism and its impact on men. ‘Rich inventive theatricality’ (WhatsOnstage.com). 30bird.org