Theatre review: Birth, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

From under the folds of a giant sheet, the stories of three generations of women emerge, their shared relationships and experiences of giving birth forming an epic dance of life’s ongoing journey.

A fluid use of physical theatre
A fluid use of physical theatre

Birth, Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) * * * *

With only a few lines of dialogue, barely audible beneath the over-enthusiastic air conditioning and a near-continual wall of emotional music, it’s a piece that nevertheless impressively conveys multiple timelines through a fluid use of physical theatre, with the performers’ movements flowing together to capture the exhilarating energy of being alive.

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While it’s a show that will have particular relevance for anyone who wants or has children, it also movingly charts the passing of time and the continual swapping of roles that, over the years, occurs in families, through three generations of women. As mothers become grandmothers, new family members arrive and older ones, inevitably, disappear, the piece integrates both the joy of birth and the tragedy of death, be this young or old, into a rich tapestry of ongoing humanity.

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With the swish of the oversized sheets, which form an integral part of the cast’s fluid movement, the ghosts of previous generations are evoked – a vast chain of ancestors who have enabled anyone alive and sitting in the theatre today to be here now. The highlighting of this everyday but exceptional fact, as well as the personal stories, relationships and disappointments that underpin it, both celebrates and creates nostalgia for the passing of time in a way that reduces many people in the audience to tears.

While the piece at times over-stresses the emotional clout of its subject matter, the performers work together to create a web of relationships, largely without words, in a way that’s simultaneously simple but also, through it’s sharply focused choreography, reoccurring motifs and soaring movements, very sophisticated.

Until 25 August.