by Romy Iris Conroy
The NHS estimates that postpartum psychosis affects around 1 in 500 mothers shortly after giving birth. Zena Forster’s explosive new dark comedy after birth looks at this, whilst being a real crowd-pleaser. Brutally honest and equally tender and tough, mother-of-two Ann (played by Sally Tatum) and her new-born are trapped in a mother and baby unit after Ann was sectioned for displaying postpartum psychosis symptoms shortly after giving birth.
Feeling betrayed by her husband and mother, she befriends the audience – a figment of her imagination and her 19-year-old ward neighbour, Mary. Mary is another struggling mum who thinks she may be the Madonna and her son, Christ. This is such an important watch. We are often fed the narrative that having a baby is the best thing that could ever happen to a mother, but rarely are we given real-life experiences on a plate like this. One in 500 mothers is a massive number. Hundreds of families suffer silently every day and struggle to cope with the disorder after birth but it’s largely invisible.
Tatum’s performance is exhilarating – I constantly feel my anxiety heightening and my legs shaking just watching her flit across the stage. Her anguish and despair oozes from her with such ease. She is completely believable; I almost forget I am watching a play and feel more like I am in therapy with her. Leonard Allen and George Fletcher make a delightful duo as psychiatrist and psychologist on hand to assess Ann’s progress. Their energies mix so well as they bounce off each other with both humour and grace. All three of the actors, as an ensemble, work together effortlessly as they multi-role through this chaotic 75-minute piece.
Director Grace Duggan time and time again has proven her excellence. She has assistant directing credits at established theatres such as Royal Court, The Young Vic and Arcola and her talents only continue to grow with each production. The vision of the show was abundantly clear and difficult choices were tackled gently but generously.
Watching Ann’s gradual return to stability feels rewarding, as we are rooting for her to mend her relationships with her family members, reunite with her daughter and get a do-over of the past 4 months spent in the ward. This, along with the direction and stage presence, make for top, edge-of-your-seat viewing.
Postpartum Psychosis rarely lasts forever provided you get the right help. If you are struggling, please seek help from your local NHS provider or speak to Action on Postpartum Psychosis (APP).
after birth runs through 26 February then touring until 24 March.
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