‘Raven’, by Still Hungry

Review from: Jacksons Lane, London International Mime Festival; 21st January 2020

Still Hungry is a company made up of three female German circus performers: Anke van Engelshoven, Lena Ries and Romy Seibt. The concept of their show revolves around the German phrase ‘​Rabenmütter’ (translates to raven mother), an insult meaning a supposedly bad mother who works and doesn’t give all her time to her child. The three are all mothers and use this show to reclaim that phrase and express some of the prejudices and struggles they have faced being both a parent and a working circus performer. They tell us this story using aerial, contortion, an old sofa, an unapologetic attitude and a wry sense of humour.

The show starts by introducing us to each performer’s skill set, as they demonstrate in sparkly outfits how they worked before having children. They all show off their discipline with ease, Romy twisting and dropping on the rope, Anke spinning incredibly fast on her straps and Lena folding her body into various shapes. We then start to learn about them as people, as the sections of the show are broken up with segments of recorded or live voice. We hear snippets of confessional anecdotes such as; ​‘I hope we can play hospital again, so I can at least lie down for a minute’.
This humorous insight into their inner monologues means we understand them, not as glamorous performers, but as parents struggling with the monotony of tasks like doing laundry and getting a baby to sleep. They parody the romanticised idea of motherhood and point out the absurdity of competitive parenting, starting with judgemental looks over when to stop breastfeeding and escalating into taking it in turns to balance a baby doll upside down on their hand or making it do the splits.

The next time that we see them performing their disciplines they are using them to strengthen elements of the narrative. An example of this is when Anke uses her dizzying straps to take us back to the hedonistic freedom of life before children and the longing for that escape. My personal favourite section is when Lena uses her contortion skills to communicate the fear of a changing body when it is such an important tool for your career. She writhes about on the sofa, stretching her skin and stuffing it into her shorts. She twists her body in order to look at herself from unimaginable angles and highlights the scrutiny that women’s bodies in particular are under. Still Hungry effectively reveal that the problem is not just about prejudices towards motherhood, but also the bleak landscape of the employment they return to. When staging a phone call from an agent, they mock the problematic requirements that will be listed in a call out. They indicate the way that women are often only valued for their bodies and may as well be a ‘bag of flesh’ or a ‘crash doll dummy’.

This show is playful and punchy, while also doing a great job of pointing out systemic problems with the circus industry’s perception of mothers.

Online programme notes linked here.

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