It’s symbolic that a play about difficult birthing stories would have such a protracted pregnancy spanning from Lucy Clement’s idea in 2019 to the stage in 2022 after multiple postponements due to the pandemic. But the frustrating process reflected the feelings of uncertainty, fear, disappointment, and resentment in these women’s experiences, the sides not often shared about motherhood.
Nina (Clementine Anderson) doesn’t look pregnant but she is, 23 weeks, and she’s in hospital bedded next to Ainsley (Zoe Jensen) who is due for a caesarian tomorrow. Neither is having the picture-perfect pregnancy we get sold in media. Ainsley’s partner is doubtful of her son’s paternity and is refusing to come to the hospital and Nina isn’t actually sure yet if she’s keeping her baby; she’s kind of hoping the universe will work that one out for her. Around the two fast-friends float Nina’s spectres: her mother (Sasha Dyer), with whom she has a strained relationship due to her own difficulty with motherhood, and Bee (Stella Ye), Nina’s best friend who sings to her on her ukulele and dreams of travelling Europe.
Written on the heels of her own pregnancy and birthing, Ciella Williams’s newest script was part comedy, part family drama, and part body horror, wrapping up all the elements of pregnancy, birthing, and motherhood with a wry, straight-eyed honesty. While at times the grand metaphors became overwrought, the script sang most in the female friendships as they navigated mundane inconvenience, life-changing decisions, and tender vulnerability. In the hands of director Lucy Clements, the emotional rollercoaster was deftly handled, guided steadily along the knife-edge of panic.
The production design by CJ Fraser-Bell and Ruru Zhu was provocative with stark contrasting red and white fabrics that amplified the gore of childbirth and hospitalisation. In particular, the costuming of the mothers in flowing whites played into their angelic mythology which contrasted against their often less-than-wholesome actions. On the other hand, the nurse Doc (Rachael Chisholm) was complicated by her red scrubs as she was, granted, a pushy representative of the medical institution but also a woman grieving her infertility. Despite the clear dichotomising of the design’s colour-scheme, the characters resisted simple categorisation. Indira Elias’s composition and Clare Hennessy’s sound design provided the aural atmosphere of the hospital with cooing babies and the panting breath of labour amongst relaxing instrumental sounds that blurred the boundary between Nina’s waking and dreaming.
Despite the proliferation of positive pregnancy propaganda and the immense pressure many women feel to give birth, the process isn’t a simple one and the world is rife with the many things that can and do go wrong. The performances in Hush gave voice to the ambivalence, confusion, and resentment that can surround pregnancy and motherhood. Anderson’s representation of Nina was subtle and hazy before the causes for her fear were eventually revealed but the mix of stubbornness and indecision was engaging and very human. As her opposite, Jensen’s loud-mouthed Ainsley had excellent comic timing and a wonderful Mama Bear presence. The other three women as haunting beings stepping in and out of Nina’s perception were more fragmented in their characterisation, hinting to a harsher outside world that Nina had escaped. Though, the threat they represented was tangible and stayed with you.
Hush is running at Flight Path Theatre from February 24th – March 6th
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