Review By Lisa Lanzi
Life as a mother and a professional artist brings enormous joy alongside unique challenges and the more written and staged about this shadowy, unrecognised terrain the better, in my opinion. This performance highlights all that and more in a delightful melding of theatre and circus from an experienced performer with great presence.
Alongside concise direction by Rebecca Church, Anna Lumb is both performer and writer/creator of Hard To Reach Places with an astonishing CV and an awe-inspiring depth of professional experience both here and overseas. Think Strange Fruit, Mona Foma and Dark Mofo Festival, La Soiree and much more on stage AND screen.
Already onstage while we enter the Bakehouse’s Studio theatre space, Lumb is smiling and grooving gently, playing some party tunes from behind a sound deck. As the lighting state shifts the performer presses play on Brittney Spears’ Work B*tch and moves to a bicycle on a trainer stand to pedal furiously into the interminable rotation of her days with a few impressive synchronized pelvic gyrations and arm movements. Pause music, spoken conversation with a toddler (“don’t put your toothbrush in the toilet” etc) and a zoom across the fourth wall into the audience to order coffee. Back to the stage and toddler - return to sprint up the raked seats and catch the take-away soy latte tossed from the bio box - return to the stage and manage toaster for family breakfast catering. The honest text here mentions life during Melbourne’s 263 days of lockdown, giving birth plus home-schooling, and the ever present shift*ckery of a struggling arts industry to contend with.
Lumb describes her ‘off-kilter’ feelings that many a mother/artist faces daily: love for both roles but lost in some in-between world of concern about being good enough at either and ‘what was I thinking’ moods. There is brutal, revealing honesty about judgement from others while the juggle of two full-time jobs is relentless. The internal monologue that circles in our heads (or did I say that out loud?) contrasts against actual conversations with others where you are described as ‘brave’ for getting on stage wearing that, or asked how long you might ‘keep going’ as if a used-by date is indelibly stamped on a woman’s body.
In this intimate space Lumb covers a big range of subjects, including domestic violence, in a gentle but truthful fashion while performing various and fabulous circus talents. The frenetic pace of the 45 minute work is a reflection of many peoples’ lives but captures the episodic nature of a working mothers’ existence in particular. I loved the line about pondering the “depths of dirty washing baskets and lost opportunities” as Lumb simultaneously navigated the contortions of fitting her body through a small metal hoop; some of the text was delivered at hilarious pauses in the execution of the movement and it was obvious that the audience was captivated and engaged.
The rapid-fire bicycle/audience sprint/toddler chat/coffee collection/toast motif is repeated a number of times throughout the performance, each repeat more harrowed than the last. Spoken gems are scattered throughout, sometimes while there is an onstage costume change, describing life as Lumb knows it: “no sleep…. a hangover without the wine”, a woman’s “expiry date” and sailing into early middle age as a “plot twist but with better wine” and being able to “give zero f*cks”. There is a last magnificent hula hooping section adding more and more hoops just like our lives present extra to cope with, often when we want it the least, and the soundtrack? Stayin’ Alive of course.
This work deserves a wider audience and rests beautifully within the hybrid world of physical theatre and the evolution of theatrical circus. Go see it if Hard To Reach Places is anywhere near you.