Dance & Theatre review: Raven, Assembly Roxy | Fox, Pleasance Courtyard. Edinburgh

Anke, Lena and Romy are all dancer-acrobats.  They are also all mothers, wary – because they want to continue their careers – of being called “raven mothers”, the German pejorative phrase (with equivalents the world over) for women who are supposedly more interested in themselves than in their children.

Anke van Engelshoven, Lena Ries and Romy Seibt in Raven. Picture: Contributed
Anke van Engelshoven, Lena Ries and Romy Seibt in Raven. Picture: Contributed

Raven, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh, Until 26 August * * * *

Fox, Pleasance Courtyard. Edinburgh Until 26 August * * *

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It’s out of this tension that the Still Hungry collective of Berlin creates its beautiful and spectacular physical theatre show Raven, performed and co-created by Anke van Engelshoven, Lena Ries and Romy Seibt with creative support from Fringe star Bryony Kimmings, and presented in Edinburgh by Aurora Nova.

On a stage furnished only with a large gold-coloured sofa and a few ropes for climbing – plus, at one key moment, an avalanche of toddler-sized laundry of the kind all mothers will recognise – the company create a verbal, physical and visual representation of the challenges of motherhood that both captures a problem well understood by feminists for decades, and adds a powerful 21st century edge to the story, as Anke dons a feathery raven-like jacket for an illicit night out clubbing, or the wonderfully acrobatic Lena dreams of flight – of simply running away – while facing obviously ridiculous suggestions that after giving birth twice, her body will no longer be flexible enough to support her work.

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Among many other glorious qualities, Raven is particularly striking for the pitch-perfect ease with which it combines language and movement, as if the words acted as cues leading to soaring passages of movement that always add hugely to the meaning of the piece. At the end, in a brief passage of film, we are allowed a glimpse of the gorgeous kids who perhaps make it all worthwhile; as athletic and fast-moving as their mothers, and – it seems – quite proud of them, too.

Katie Guicciardi’s Fox, at the Pleasance Courtyard, covers the same territory as Raven in a simpler monologue style. On a stage dominated by a large doll’s house representing a London suburban home, Guicciardi leads us into the increasingly painful world of a young first-time mother who adores her new baby son, but who soon becomes so isolated and exhausted by the extreme pressures of adapting to motherhood in a modern urban world that her mental health begins to crack, and she grows increasingly obsessed with the plight of a homeless man who has taken up residence on the wall opposite her house.

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After a gentle and well-observed tour of familiar issues around homelessness and middle-class guilt, Guicciardi’s text begins to focus down on the symptoms of the young mother’s deteriorating mental health to an extent that slightly sidelines the theme of homelessness, and the central image of the threatening urban fox suggested by the show’s title. Yet Guicciardi’s performance glows with conviction, and a kind of exhausted radiance; and if the culture of silence around the shock and trauma of new motherhood is well known to the generation who grew up reading feminist classics like The Women’s Room, it’s as well to be reminded that for many young women today, very little has changed