Review by Daz Gale
The birth of a new musical is always an exciting event, particularly when it gives a voice to those who may not always get their stories told in theatre. After a long workshopping process, the fully realised production of The Good Enough Mums Club is ready to be delivered on stage, kicking off a UK tour at Birmingham Hippodrome last week. I went along to see what I thought about the show, and there was no way I could stay mum about it.
First created in 2013 by Emily Beecher, The Good Enough Mums Club has been created through collecting stories over the past 10 years from mothers who have struggled with aspects of motherhood, inspired by Emily’s own experiences with postnatal depression. The result is this musical which cleverly weaves these stories together with the narrative of five women whose support group is threatened with closure by the local Council who find the strength within themselves.
There needs to be a sense of authenticity when creating a show such as The Good Enough Mum’s Club as nobody knows the intricacies of their stories and what it is like to be a mum with all of the rarely mentioned struggles than mums themselves. This is why the note saying the show is “proudly produced, written, directed, designed, choreographed, stage managed and performed by mums” adds a gritty, real and raw factor to the show which in turn elevates the material and creates a sense of poignancy.
Emily Beecher’s writing is beautifully accessible, full of multiple levels which people will relate to in different ways – those with lived and similar experiences of the themes presented during the show will find comfort, joy and no shortage of emotion as they see the stories played out on the stage, though the testament to the calibre of the writing is how much there is to take for those who have no experience with raising a child whatsoever. Witnessing how others reacted to the story and shared their own stories showed how fantastically Emily’s material managed to connect. From an outsider and casual observer, I couldn’t help but buy into this wonderful atmosphere and lose myself in the story.
Taking away the emotion and aim The Good Enough Mum’s Club attempts to do, as a piece of theatre it still holds up on its own. Emily’s writing is full of wit and comedy with a keen eye to detail leading to some brilliantly realised recurring gags. The humour never detracts from the emotional weight of the story, however, and the more sombre moments are always captivating to watch, told with sensitivity. One highlight for me included the unexpected moment where the five mums took on the personas of their children, adding a surreal but hilarious cutaway in the story. Perhaps, not every moment in the show had the same impact with the feeling a couple of tweaks were needed here and there, particularly in the all too sudden ending of act one and a slight pacing problem, but these are minor quibbles when looking at the show as a whole.
The music and lyrics, also written by Emily Beecher, are equally enjoyable. With a few musical theatre references thrown in, most notably the Chicago-esque opener, they convey a sense of fun while still making sure to retain the emotional depth prevalent in the story. Though a list of song titles were not available so I can’t name them individually, they are all pleasant in their own way with a particular standout seeing the cast taking on children's TV shows in a ,rilliantlyy funny performance. The music is consistently strong without a dud number in sight though perhaps I could have done without a new twist on ‘Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ personally. With music and arrangement by Verity Quade and direction by Debbi Clarke, the songs made the Studio space in Birmingham Hippodrome burst with life and a grand sound you would expect from the main space next door.
The five women who make up The Good Enough Mums Club are a marvel to witness. Each taking turns in the spotlight, there is a sense of no top billing with all five forming one cohesive unit, or club if you will, which is refreshing to see. In Joanna Kirkland, Amy Ross, Jade Samuels, Belinda Wollaston and Rebecca Bernice Amissah, some of the finest theatre performers are assembled, each shining with their multiple talents, be it beautiful singing voices or unrivaled ability to embody the characters, creating emotive and connective performances.
Sarah Meadows and Michelle Payne’s direction makes full use of the Hippodrome’s studio space with a fantastic design from Libby Todd transforming the place into a club with various rooms constantly visible, allowing for a lot of fun to be had with props and space in general. Natasha Harrison’s movement and choreography delight, allowing the cast to have fun in their characterisations while Aaron J Dootson’s lighting ensures the whole thing always looks fabulous.
The journey of mums after they give birth is very rarely looked at in such fine detail. When it is, it is often glossed over making out that everything is happy and carefree. The Good Enough Mums Club sheds a much needed spotlight on what it is really like in a show that is refreshing in its honesty and no holds unbarred approach to subjects that aren’t discussed as freely as others. The mums in the club form their own community and that community spirit extends beyond the stage, leaving a show that truly connects with its audience, moving them in the process.
While it has been a work in progress for some time, it is very early days for the tour and, truth be told, could still use a little bit of fine-tuning but that in itself is quite fitting for this show. The Good Enough Mums Club shows that you don't have to be perfect to be good enough and it is the same with this show. It may not be perfect but it is far more than good enough. Whether you have relatable experiences or not, I would encourage everybody to book themselves in for a visit to this club before it becomes waiting list only.
The Good Enough Mums Club tours the UK until 2nd December. Full dates and tickets from https://www.goodenoughmumsclub.com/
Photos by Pamela Raith