In the rehearsal room on the first floor of HOME, three long wooden tables are set out in the space, creating a square surrounded by orange plastic chairs. On the table there is a spread of curry, rice, spiced potatoes, fruit, biscuits. In the corner there is a smaller table with an urn, surrounded by a selection of teabags (breakfast, decaffeinated, rooibos, mint), instant coffee, a carton of milk.
It is the first evening rehearsal for Spring. Around the table, the core creative team is joined by a group of pregnant women – the performers in this new piece, which will premiere this Easter at Old Granada Studios, Manchester. Conversation flows as food is shared. There are introductions from everyone around the table. There is laughter as people define themselves with the words:
“Hello, I’m [name] and I’m pregnant”
Or “Hello, I’m [name] and I’m not pregnant”
Earlier in the day the creative team have written a pile of questions, scribbled out by hand on scraps of paper. These are passed around and everyone chooses two or three that they might like to answer.
“How far pregnant are you?”
“Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl?”
“Is this your first?”
“Will your child have a middle name?”
“Where did you conceive?”
“Will you be strict?”
“Will you still be interesting?”
The conversation shifts between factual information, personal stories, hopes, fears, and imaginings. It is punctuated by silences – moments of pause as thought is given to what these new human beings might be like: the kinds of people they might become, the choices they might make, the ways in which their name or their upbringing might impact on their life; and how the world around them might change as they grow into adults. We think about our own parents and the questions they must have had about us. There is a conversation about birth – hospital births, water births, hypnobirths, and the best positions for delivery. There are some jokes about what will happen if someone goes into labour during one of the performances (don’t worry, our Production Manager, Greg, has already thought it through). We think about our grandparents and the passage of time.
We clear the table and the performers move into the space: a line of pregnant women. It is the first time they have stood together and their presence immediately draws me in. During the day, the creative team have been exploring physicality and have come up with a series of instructions for the performers to test out. Its purpose is both to generate the beginnings of some material and to allow the performers to get used to the space and to working together. Jane begins to guide them through this exploration.
The performers move across the room in different ways, some not yet showing with a bump, others slowed slightly in their movements by the weight of their growing child. They face the audience. They stand in profile. They face one another. Moments of intimacy and touch are found and then broken. Hands come into contact and are released. The performers lay on the floor, bodies interconnected like dominoes, hands on bellies, heads on bellies. They shuffle together, stomach to back, stomach to back, stomach to back, a line of pregnant strangers spooning. It’s only the beginnings of things and I know that what I’m watching now may or may not make it into the final performance – it’s a process of trying things out, seeing what they feel like, how they look, how they might fit together.
I notice that whenever the performers pause to listen to a new instruction they come to a stop with their hands on their stomachs, holding the front of their bump or supporting it gently underneath. I realise as I am watching that my hands subconsciously find their way to my stomach, cupping an imaginary bump and mirroring this gesture – a show of solidarity perhaps for these women who are embarking on exciting but unknown journeys, as performers and as parents.
By Sarah Hunter