Monday, 5 June 2017

Mother's Dramaturgy: Maeve Marsden @ Edfringe 2017

Whet your appetite in a thoroughly gin-soaked way with Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin, performed by Australia’s hottest cabaret stars and served with Australia’s finest gin. 

Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret About Gin

Dates: 2 Aug 2017 - 27 Aug 2017 (except Mon 14 Aug 2017 | Mon 21 Aug 2017)
Time: 6:15pm (60 minutes)
Cost: £6 - £14
Venue: Gilded Balloon: Rose Theatre 

Equal parts historical and “hysterical”, this darkly comic ode to gin is a raucous journey told through tales of women, love, secrets and … gin. 

Two of Australia’s hottest stars, Maeve Marsden and Libby Wood, accompanied by Australian cabaret legend Tom Dickins, together ignite the stage with stunning vocals and quick wit as they take an intoxicating stroll through the history of one of the world’s favourite tipples. 

From the streets of London to the Australian bush, via colonial India, New York speakeasies and the jungles of Peru, the mythology and propaganda around gin has been relentlessly used to subjugate women, build misnomers on miscarriage and hammer home the message of “hysteria”.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
Gin! In late 2014, I was drinking G&Ts with Elly Baxter (aka The Ginstress) and she was telling me about all this research she’d been doing into the gin craze in England and the history of the stereotype that gin is a women’s drink, a tearjerker, ‘Mother’s Ruin’.

The stories were fascinating and we tipsily agreed that Mother’s Ruin was a great title for a cabaret. The next day, our conversation cut through the hangover and we set about assembling a team to write the show. After a few false starts we premiered it at Adelaide Cabaret Festival last year.

Gin has such a rich and complex history that touches on issues of colonialism, propaganda, women’s rights, prohibition and politics. The more we researched, the more fascinated we became. Plus, who doesn’t want to sing songs about their favourite drink?!

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

I think performance is a GREAT space for the public discussion of ideas. I find that through performance I can reach such a wide and diverse audience. Performance doesn’t have to present a concrete argument, it can raise questions and communicate ideas through narrative or emotion.

The experience of live performance is disarming, in a way, because it’s so immediate. I think that makes people more open. With Mother’s Ruin, for example, the show is ostensibly about gin, but we use the stories and facts we researched to explore other issues in history.

Looking at these issues through the lens of something we love - gin - sheds a different light and allows us to use music and humour to make our point. I’ve seen wonderful work in the last few years in Australia that is challenging and wholly engaged with the discussion of ideas - eg Hannah Gadsby, Zoe Coombs Marr’s show ‘Trigger Warning’, Hot Brown Honey, Adrienne Truscott.

How did you become interested in making

I don’t remember not wanting to perform, to be honest. Though, after university I spent a few years trying to be sensible with a job in arts admin. Luckily, I used the money I earnt with my sensible day job to travel and, in 2008, I came to Edinburgh Fringe and spent a week watching incredible shows.

I came home freshly inspired and started developing my cabaret act, Lady Sings it Better. Since then I’ve continued to build on that foundation, making new work and, you know, getting better. Libby and I have been working together now for 7 years and we have developed a real rapport and love of collaboration. We keep coming up with new ideas and exploring new ways of working together.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?
We developed Mother’s Ruin collaboratively, with myself and Libby, our Musical Director, Jeremy Brennan, our director Anthea Williams and Elly Baxter, who did a lot of the gin research.

We dig through books about gin and researched online, looking for engaging, interesting, strange or funny tales that we could weave into a story, as well as, of course, songs about gin.

The more we improvised, wrote, sang and discussed the stories, the more we developed a collective approach to the narrative and humour in the show. We tested things our in front of audiences and, to be honest the show keeps changing, as we find new stories and songs about gin.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
Yes. Libby and I make comedy cabaret, and we tend to view the world through a feminist lens, so our work is often about women and women’s histories or experiences. That said, we really like making popular entertainment that appeals to a broad audience, drawing people in with humour and shared interests, then offering fresh perspectives.

We do this with Lady Sings it Better, for example, where we look at misogyny in pop culture by performing ridiculously sexist songs. Our shows tend towards the silly and slapstick, but with a political heart. Also, all our work is about singing together, about reinventing songs and creating arrangements with beautiful harmonies. We love singing together.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope they’ll be engaged, amused and entertained, and that they learn something. And I hope they like gin, because every audience member gets a free Four Pillars G&T, one of our fave Aussie boutique gins!

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
I’m not sure I think about audience experience strategically, but I do think a lot about how we engage the audience because cabaret is so much about that interaction, about breaking the fourth wall. I suppose we think strategically about how we draw the audience in through humour, how we can disarm them with playfulness and self-deprecation to allow for a lot of the information and historical fact to not feel to arduous or like a lecture.

So we spend a lot of time making sure the show has pace and is fun! And of course the free drink is a pretty good strategy for getting them onside!

Marsden and Wood are long-time collaborators, evident in their flawless harmonies and natural demeanour, described as “buxom and bodacious” (InDaily). Their UK tour sees them join forces with Tom Dickins as their Pianoman, who has recorded and toured with Amanda Palmer, co-written with Neil Gaiman, and shared the stage with the likes of Tim Minchin, Paul Kelly and Margaret Cho. 

During the show, audiences will be treated to Four Pillars Gin served with Fever Tree Tonic.  An Australian boutique gin, Four Pillars is distilled in with native botanicals including lemon myrtle and Tasmanian pepperberry. 
With a generous splash of stunning music, a dash of theatricality and a twist of feminist theory, Mother's Ruin is a deliciously contemporary cabaret cocktail. 

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