Review: Scenes for Survival: Disco with Mum, National Theatre of Scotland

Disco with Mum gives us an intimate look at a video call between a mother and daughter who are spending lockdown in separate houses but are both facing an uncertain future, whilst coming to terms with a recent loss. While the pair had planned a virtual disco, the call quickly turns into something deeper as we see how music connects us to our emotions and most importantly to each other. 

A part of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Scenes for Survival project Disco with Mum is one of over 50 new digital artworks made in response to the current Covid-19 crisis. All of the work is free to access while acting as a platform to raise money for the Scenes for Survival Hardship Fund: a fund for artists and theatre workers who have been hardest hit financially by the current crisis. While enabling artists to reflect on their experiences of lockdown, these scenes are far from being solely entertaining as they work to promote the arts and promote arts funding through the uncertainty of Covid-19. 

Written by Hannah Lavery and directed by Julie Ellen, this all female team brings us a beautiful look at the mother daughter bond. Simple, yet sophisticated, the show creates the sense of a normal modern family as the daughter (Saskia Ashdown) wanders around her kitchen, dressing for a disco, as her mother (Julie Graham) tries to broach a far more serious topic than Spotify playlists. The scene carefully contains deeper political issues including the disproportionate number of BAME deaths from Covid-19 within the NHS, but by placing it in the private sphere this doesn’t feel unnatural and allows you to see the true emotional cost these losses have. 

Ashdown and Graham have a delightful on-screen relationship to watch, creating a call that is easily recognisable to me as one I might have with my mother, including the bickering. They skilfully draw the line between parent and friend swapping between discussing birdwatching to the daughters drinking habits. But overall this piece is about grief. The grief of being separated from your family, the grief of losing a loved one and the grief of knowing you could be very close to losing another. Ashdown and Graham tackle this sensitively and sympathetically bringing us with them as we move from darkness to light through the power of music and a good disco. Even though the pace of the scene was slightly too slow in parts, meaning some early sections of the piece lost momentum, the emotion was clear throughout. 

Disco with Mum really is a piece for our time, exploring how families that are apart can connect, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. This scene shows us how music shapes families, shapes emotions and can bring joy even from hundreds of miles away when we share it with the people we love.

Disco with Mum is available to watch at the National Theatre of Scotland’s website.