Review: Birth, Richard Burton Theatre

The present unfolds, the past is revealed to be fragile and the future has to be written over, as Birth interweaves three generations of women and traces the tragedies which divide and unite them. 

There is a beautiful gentleness to this performance, with the pervading sense of nostalgia inevitably brought with depictions of childhood and family life, and enhanced by the golden flood lighting and Alex Judd’s lyrical score. Within an industry which appears increasingly saturated with performances designed to shock or challenge audiences, Birth’s delicacy, familiarity and prevailing optimism is soothing and encourages us to perceive voicing the taboo subject of pregnancy and loss as unburdening rather than tainting.

The movement devised by the company is notably intricate. They have complete mastery over pacing and a skilful interdependency in sourcing and removing costume and props which propels the narrative so essentially through the snap-shot depictions of whole lifetimes. Circular movement is prevalent throughout, conveying the non-stop nature of family-life, as well as the sense of repetition, which is intertwined with the concept of the circle of life. However, this summons the image, for me, of how this circle from birth to death can be tragically reduced to merely a dot when both are combined in one.

The motif of the constantly turning pages of the grandmother’s journal evokes as sense of the tangible permanency of history whilst simultaneously suggesting the perception based nature of storytelling. Fundamentally, the journal is the route through which the parallel unfolding of  multiple time periods can still retain a grounding in plausibility, without which the physical and visual theatre would likely slip into a conceptual rather than human reflection on the nature of family. However, the image of pages seems embroidered with more diverse meaning, whether this symbol of heritage and personal history be a warming blanket or a suffocating weight, a whirlwind of speed or a gentle settling, a wave which wisps them away or a blank canvas which they blend amongst. 

The first section of the play is dependent upon the audience investing into the rather repetitive depiction of a ‘universal’ upbringing, which is minimally emotionally stirring and not at all mentally engaging. However, without the contentedness this evokes, the latter emptiness and slowing of family hustle and bustle to laborious steps wouldn’t have earned its impact.

This cohesive ensemble cast of THEATRE-RE create a gently emotive piece of storytelling about leaving, returning, repeating and ending, and the truths hidden within silence.

‘Birth’ is playing continuing its UK tour until the 23 October. For more information and tickets, see the Theatre Re website.