A question I’ve been asked a lot lately is ‘so what is Caterpillar about?’.
It’s a fair question, and one I have difficulty answering.
Vaguely, I’ve been saying “family, motherhood, identity”.
In one interview I said “the lies we tell ourselves and each other”. I was quite proud of that.
But the nitty-gritty, what is it actually ABOUT?
It’s about a woman grappling with a social taboo.
Still pretty vague. But I didn’t want to spoiler it. Who do I think I am eh, the extended series finale of Bodyguard? Which, by the way, I enjoyed but did find it a bit of an anti-climax when the car didn’t explode.
It’s about the expectations of motherhood and the language of parenthood. Father’s ‘mind’ the kids, they ‘babysit’? Erm, no.
It’s about idealised relationships versus real ones.
It’s about jumping off a pier in a novelty flying competition.
It’s about a woman struggling to decide if she should leave her husband and young son.
I was inspired by radio podcast I listened to about women who lived apart from their dependent children. Some by choice. Some not.
The women had to be interviewed anonymously due to the backlash they’d face.
The episode was posted on Facebook and the comments section was A LOT.
I did more research around the subject and it fascinated me.
This article from 2011 estimated that 200,000 British women were living apart from their children.
The reasons, of course, vary from case to case.
But with the NHS unable to support women with mental health problems caused by pregnancy and giving birth, is it any wonder many mothers are in crisis.
“Between 10% and 20% of women who give birth develop some form of mental illness, ranging from anxiety and depression to more complex conditions such as PTSD and psychosis. With about 665,000 births a year in England, this means 66,500-133,000 women a year develop problems.”
Caterpillar is not the definitive look at this topic and there is always more to say and other perspectives to explore, but I have been so pleased that many of the reviews have been so positive. Michael Davis for Break the Fourth Wall highlighted it “raises a subject that’s seldom explored on stage and one of society’s taboos.”
The Younger Theatre said “what is most important about this show are the issues it touches on, especially the mental health of mothers and their daughters. This attempt at coping with the pains of life and how families often fail to do so, is heart-breaking.”
On Twitter @livmace posted “So rarely do I see a play about ‘motherhood’ that doesn’t make me roll my eyes. This is so much more. And it’s funny.”
Oh yeah, cos there are jokes.
Please don’t think it’s a po-faced exploration of maternal mental illness. Experience has taught me that if you want your audience to come somewhere dark with you, have to pepper the path with gags.
So what’s the point of this post? To set out my stall?
To say this is a really interesting, emotive topic (I think it is, or I wouldn’t have written about it) that needs to be pulled out of the shadows.
Are you going to learn all about it, facts and figures? No. But Claire is a woman going through something that is considered by many to be unnatural. Her own mother Maeve calls it “obscene”. And that’s another thing – central characters who are a) women b) a woman over 30 (gasp) c) a woman over 60 (GASP!). I know right, I’m changing the world.
There’s a male character too. Simon. He’s an amateur aviator and a real sweetheart. Or is he?
And these three are not always right or likable or honest. They’re sometimes funny, they’re sometimes loving, they’re sometimes deplorable.
And nothing is tied up with a bow at the end cos, you know, life. Come along and decide for yourselves what you think happens next and what becomes of them.
“both fun and darkly funny” – The Guardian
CATERPILLAR is on at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, 27th-29th September