It’s a rare thing to see a piece of contemporary theatre with so much meat to it. Socio-political context sits alongside a stunning set consisting of retro household appliances. Throw in a dense text, an eclectic soundtrack, movie clips (with a squinting audience leaning in to watch from a handheld television screen), megaphones and three female performers and that just about makes up the entire myriad of parts which make up this hour long show.
Domestic Labour, a Study in Love by 30 Bird, to me, is an exploration of home life, what it means to be a doting wife, and the resentment which can develop amongst those who spend their days cleaning up after a husband and children. The show also explores what it feels like to live in two culturally different countries, Iran and the UK, and the contrast between male-female equality in East and West.
There are some wonderful vignettes to cherish and which have left an imprint in my mind since the show. Visually, the glorious eruption from an exploding vacuum cleaner, showering dust over the performers, a bicycle pedalled, propped on a radiator and convoluted contraptions in the form of electronic whisk helmets, with metres of cables and leads. There are also rough little jewels of anecdotes about holidays in the south of Spain, an Iranian Grandmother and a rather twee but well delivered account of cycling in Cambridge.
Despite the richness of content, I did encounter some problems with watching the show. For the trio of performers, the complexity of the staging and text seem overwhelming and so there are some moments of hesitation which break magic on stage. The slight disjointedness also gives the impression that the performers don’t fully own or believe the text for themselves. Such a strongly feminist text about domesticity coming from a male director, performed by a cast who look so youthful doesn’t quite win me.
For me, such density in a show starts to detract from the effectiveness of the message and the sentiment of the work. This is a piece which is packed full of everything, and this evening also included a historically contextualising post-show talk. I can’t help but feel that with half the content, this piece could have had twice impact.
That said, the multitude of levels and media at work here mean that it is accessible on many levels, so allows everyone who sees it to take from it what they can glean. The wittiness in the delivery helps the challenging context to be easier to approach. On the whole, I found this piece to be hard work to watch, but perhaps the intensity of the ideas is actually a reflection on the thought processes of this fatigued and fraught narrator.