On motherhood, monsterous rabbits and dim tunnels.

Let me tell you a little more about the puppet play I am creating. ‘Hutch’, a brief synopsis: Underground somewhere, within the grubby confines of a strange nursery, a mother attends to the object of her maternal affections, whose insatiable appetite cannot be satisfied…

Using live music, song, puppetry and objects ‘Hutch’ will take you into disquieting territory, where the dynamics of complicity and co-dependency play out in unexpected ways.

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Fundamentally Hutch is about ambivalence – the ambivalence that occurs within any dysfunctional love relationship, in this case the mother /child relationship. And within that relationship what I perceive to be the terrible and wonderful bond between parent and dependent infant with all its drudgery, exhaustion, intensity and terrifying, acute love.

There have been incidents in my life that have informed this piece, here are two;

My mother had a mid-life baby – I was 21 when he was born. Once, when he was toddling, we went for a walk at a wild surf beach, which had dunes, cliffs and a pounding ocean. At one point my infant brother ran on ahead into the tussocks and out of sight. My mother, panic-stricken, began to call and break into a run – the tone of her call was so distraught that it has remained indelibly etched into my memory. Her urgent, awful cries were carried off on the wind and as she too, vanished from sight running toward the dunes. In that moment I comprehended the depth of the mother/child bond and the all-consuming responsibility that accompanies it. Suddenly the landscape seemed full of threat; every rise, crevice and waterway spelled potential harm. Motherhood suddenly seemed like an imprisonment, a wearing down of the soul with its endless hyper-vigilance and unceasing protectiveness.

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 After my little brother left home part-time to attend high-school 100 kilometres away, my mother bought a black rabbit. Somehow the rabbit ended up living on mother’s sofa. It urinated copiously, was highly territorial and aggressive, but at the same time, dependent on my mother to feed it. The lounge room became a sort of hutch with my mother perched on a bare wooden chair waiting, as if in service to feed the rabbit at regular intervals while it reclined upon and despoiled her only sofa. The rabbit frequently bit the hand that fed it. It seemed to me that my mother had substituted the rabbit for my absent brother – the situation struck me as a bizarre and potent expression of the intensity of my mothers’ dysfunctional nurturing style. It was as if all those years of mothering had worn her into an emotional shape she could not shift, whether projected onto a child, a pet, a plant or another adult.

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 I have never had children – instead, I make things.

 So now you know where this work is coming from. It is a passion play involving a Mother, a giant despotic rabbit and the rituals of nurturing an infant. It is autobiographical; it is also an exploration of my intense ambivalence towards motherhood.

Hutch will be played in a disused gold mining tunnel known as Carman’s Tunnel in the Central Victorian town of Maldon.

I have chosen this location as it is structurally a ‘warren’ and thus plays into the emotional claustrophobia of this scenario and compliments the nature of the ‘infant’ giant rabbit.

Carman’s Tunnel, Maldon

Carman’s Tunnel provides a fascinating space to work with, in terms of design. It has major constraints; there is no electricity, all lighting will have to be candle and torch.

In terms of lighting I plan to evoke the sense of ‘nursery’ using the shadows cast by miniature mobiles suspended before LED lights. I have long admired Christian Boltanski’s shadow mobiles – such a simple idea but so compelling! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPHlI4wg1s8

Christian Boltanski shadow work.

I have begun my own process of making spontaneous paper cut outs as I think about the songs and associations with the space of a nursery that will be used in Hutch.

A friend made an interesting comment that the shadows cast upon the wall are like the child’s disorienting view of the objects swirling above him in the cot – the shadows connect us to the eye of the infant.

See below some of my paper cut experiments:

All the Pretty Horses

In addition to these paper-cut mobiles, it is possible that I will involve the audience by giving them torches and inviting them to ‘spot-light’ the performance – which is both a fascinating notion, given the unpredictability and a potentially unsettling prospect!

Music will also be a crucial element to this work. There will be live music, a song cycle. I have spent some time in the last three months at the home of composer Kristin Rule, http://aprincipledcellist.blogspot.com/ working with her on concepts for the show’s music. The music is as much a ‘voice’ or emotional informant as the puppets, choreography and the environment.There will be some pre-recorded music played via laptop and the rest will be live cello and voice. Kristin is exceptionally talented and so far I’m enthralled by the music she has created – it’s as if she has tapped straight into the heart of the piece. Our process together began with a handful of traditional nursery rhymes as the starting point for the song cycle. I have a fascination for old, obscure nursery songs and riddle songs and had initially thought that the work might showcase some of these lesser-known and remarkable songs (they are miniature social and historical commentaries). However, once we started to tease out the ideas behind Hutch we came to the realisation that the better known tunes (i.e Hush ‘lil Baby, All the Pretty Horses etc) work precisely because they are well-known and loaded with associations from both childhood and the experience of parenting. These songs set up an emotional expectation that can then be manipulated and taken to unexpected emotional places.

After all –  acts of emotional subversion are all the more unexpected if you have a familiar and trusted guide.

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One thought on “On motherhood, monsterous rabbits and dim tunnels.

  1. Beautiful Rachel, I can’t wait to hear more about your progress and processes with the work. Great to see you when I was in the car in Melbourne so fleetingly! xxx

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