James Haddrell and Marie Hamilton on parenting in the arts

Since I had my children (and my youngest is still only one year old) my theatregoing has changed dramatically. Before that I used to spend four nights a week watching shows, but now most weeks I manage one or two and make up the difference with matinees and babes-in-arms performances.

James Haddrell, artistic director of Greenwich Theatre

Sure, a lot of the work I saw was family theatre as that is such a big priority for us in Greenwich, and my older daughter is now old enough to see a lot of shows with me, but my patterns of attendance are different. That has certainly focused my mind on our offer for parents, the performance times, matinees when we can offer them, relaxed performances, and shows specifically designed to appeal to very young children – but catering to audiences with children is only half the consideration that we need to make. The other half is supporting artists who are new parents.

The challenge of maintaining a career as a theatre-maker when you become a parent is at the heart of writer and performer Marie Hamilton’s new one-woman cabaret, Madonna On The Rocks, which plays at Greenwich Theatre from 21-23 February.

I first came across Marie’s work when we supported her creation of Polly (The Heartbreak Opera) in collaboration with Sharp Teeth Theatre, back before the pandemic. Inspired by John Gay’s banned sequel to The Beggar’s Opera, the marketing copy for the show described it as a radical, Britney and Peaches sound-tracked, drunken hen-do adaptation of an 18th Century rom-com. If that was the hen-do, Marie has jumped the wedding and is now in the world of the new mother.

Madonna On The Rocks follows Marina, an aspiring star since she was a child – but now that she has her own child she wonders if it’s time to throw her dreams in the nappy bin. Marina is caught up in society’s ideal of motherhood, as well as her own, wondering if following her dreams will see her labelled as selfish, absent – a bad mother.

Described as a ‘hilarious tragicomedy’, this dark, empowering (and very funny) show examines the beautiful and awful contradictions of motherhood in the 21st century and the expectations society can place on new mothers, and that new mothers can place on themselves. It examines the struggle to pursue a creative career while being a truly present parent at the same time. It’s about maternal rage, responsibility and fragile egos, and it promises to challenge audiences to tackle their own prejudices, to reflect on their relationships and to fight for a fairer future for everyone.

“This is my most personal show to date” Marie told me, “digging into the darkest, most tender places in my heart. But after hundreds of hours of walking round cold car parks with other new parents, shaking maracas to ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ and wanting to bang our heads against a brick wall, I know that so many people feel the same way. Raising children is terrifying and beautiful and boring and brilliant all at the same time. It can be incredibly lonely and you can think you’re going completely insane. I hope this show will be a beam of light in the darkness, a joyous, hilarious celebration of all those contradictions, and of all those who have gone before and lit our way.”

Image courtesy of Marie Hamilton

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