Interview: Helen Goalen from RashDash on their new play Oh Mother

by Jim Keaveney

Helen Goalen in Oh Mother by RashDash. Photo: The Other Richard

Asking radical and intimate questions about motherhood, the award-winning RashDash have returned with their latest show Oh Mother.

Made with and for their mums, this latest offering from the company has been inspired by becoming parents, by their families, their bodies, their friends and their mums. The show follows their recent offerings, Look at Me Don’t Look At Me and sold-out smash-hit Three Sisters After Chekhov, and features core members Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen performing with Becky Wilkie composing.

This show was originally intended to go into rehearsal on the first day of the first lockdown. Since then, Helen, Becky and Abbi have all had babies. This newly devised show, which has already played in Manchester and Bristol ahead of its London run,  is for friends, mothers, partners, babies and for anyone that is making a family.

It explores what a transformative thing it can be to take care of someone else, completely. How it rearranges you, how you might yearn to do it, and how you will definitely yearn for a break. How it is relentless, diabolical, wonderful, hilarious and necessary.

Ahead of their London opening we spoke with Goalen about the production, how it has grown and unsocialable hours.

Oh Mother by RashDash. Photo: The Other Richard

The Understudy Q&A with Helen Goalen

Hello, thanks for taking the time out to chat with me about Oh Mother! How has the run been so far?

It’s been a lot of fun, vulnerable making, exhausting…different at different points in the process. We’re just back from a gorgeous week in Bristol with buzzing audiences which was pretty joyous.

What can you tell us about RashDash and the production?

RashDash is a company making (mostly) theatre that combines movement, music and text in new ways to make shows that are personal and political. This show takes the subject of Motherhood and approaches it from a load of different angles and perspectives, some of them deeply personal, others completely imagined but all of them rooted in articulating the complexity of having a mother, being a mother and caring for your mother and the huge impact that all of these relationships and experiences have on the rest of your life.

You’ve completed a Manchester run and are now preparing a run at Soho Theatre – is the show coming to London in the same form or have you taken an opportunity to change things?

The show is essentially the same but is growing all the time as we find new approaches to it as performers and get to know it with an audience. All shows do this of course, but we’ve found it particularly with this one. The combination of not working with a consistent director and it being made under significant time pressure whilst juggling caring responsibilities meant that it took a little while for us to find what it is…

Oh Mother by RashDash. Photo: The Other Richard

How different is this version of Oh Mother to the version that was due to go into rehearsals on the first day of lockdown?

Very different! We had only completed one week of R&D for version 1 but the seed that sparked the show was a conversation about the pressure on women in their 30s to have children – how it can feel like the world is telling you one minute that if you get pregnant it will destroy you life and career  and the next minute is asking WHY AREN’T YOU PREGNANT? During the pandemic Abbi and I both had babies, so that angle, although still interesting to us had less of a lived experience…and a whole new world of the experience of care opened up. Also cellist and performer Simone Seales wasn’t involved at that stage and their story is now a huge part of the show.

You’ve talked about fitting work around babies and how much your lives and your priorities have transformed – has it been a challenge adapting within an industry that is focused on what many would consider ‘unsociable’ hours?

As co-directors of the company we have designed a process with a 3 day rehearsal week and shorter tech sessions to allow for caring responsibilities, so we haven’t come up against industry pressure particularly. All of the team were delighted to work shorter days in tech! We’ve been saying for a while that tech puts a huge amount of unnecessary pressure on creative and tech teams and everyone might make better decisions if they were less tired, so it worked well for everyone… the show was still knackering to make though. The work just continued for me and Abbi after the kids were in bed…so I suppose the hours were still unsociable, just within our digs/homes.

Oh Mother by RashDash. Photo: The Other Richard

The run includes a parent and baby performance (Sat 30 Jul) – how important was that inclusivity when you were planning the performance schedule? 

It’s so important that parents of babies are able to see the show and for some of them those inclusive shows are their only chance, so it’s vital they’re part of the offer. The one at HOME Manchester was packed and an unforgettable show, 70+ babies in one room…I mean…

Finally, how would you describe Oh Mother to someone considering buying a ticket for the show?

We’ve never written advance copy for a show before that is so apt – ‘a fever dream made in the heat of the love, the exhaustion and the chaos.’ There is epic music, there are stunning images, and a kaleidoscope of scenes that will make you feel things…we hope.

Jim Keaveney is the lead critic at The Understudy. He tweets occasionally from @understudyjim