REVIEW OF LULLABY:
Donna Rutherford has always written in a lyrical, earthy way on family, ageing and what it is to be human. Lullaby, which follows on from her previous works Kin and Broth focuses on an arguably more taboo subject- that of middle-aged women who are without children. As the film plays, Rutherford has cheekily provided jelly babies for the audience to munch. This sets the tone for all of the inherent contradictions of the piece- sweet, humorous, but with bite.
Using a selection of voices, while narrating her own experiences live, Rutherford examines the impact on women, who through choice or circumstance have found themselves without a family. Some remain anonymous; others appear on screen and talk frankly, wittily and movingly about this. The stigma is addressed- the fact that people see fit to inquire ‘What’s wrong with you?’ and ‘Why not?’ of women who haven’t become mothers, yet who do not approach men in this way. The equation of motherhood as being something synonymous with femininity, almost an obligation, is voiced. One woman speaks of a school reunion where she felt like an outsider, as everyone there was a parent except for her, ‘and all they did was talk about their children- I wanted to hear about them‘, she says, and her frustration is palpable. So many people’s identities are, after all, bound up in their children’s lives.
An elegiac, beautiful soundtrack by musician Inge Thomson accompanies the film- folk songs given a new rhythm like a heartbeat- fragile and tentative. Rutherford sings along with ‘Momma’s gonna buy you a mockingbird’, and discloses her own reasons for never having a baby. She simply states that ‘a darkness’ enclosed her whenever the subject came up, and that her friends always expressed surprise at her choice. She does not knock people who have kids, but laments how child-focused the western world has become, and the almost saintly nature of kids and motherhood within society. She refers back to historical texts from 17th and 18th century France, where children played less of a role in adult life, often raised by nannies- and, as the old maxim went, were’seen and not heard’.
Reproductive rights, capitalism and shifts in modern living, where the man may not necessarily be the breadwinner anymore, are contributing factors for a childless couple, or single woman. Even the semantics of not having kids is discussed: ‘Child-free sounds like a brand’, Rutherford quips. Ultimately, Lullaby is an even-handed yet powerful and brave paean to womanhood, feminism and choice. Rutherford hopes to bring the project back- after the huge success of this performance, it seems a given. Lorna Irvine The Tempohouse 18th January 2017
REVIEWS OF BROTH:
Reflection on winter years is rich and nourishing
''Carrots – don’t forget the carrots! In they go, and Liz’s Lentil Soup simmers under our noses because Donna Rutherford is serving up Broth, her wistfully tender reflection on life in old age. Alongside real-time soup making, Rutherford deftly balances video interviews of vividly forthright pensioners with her own mid-life thoughts on what the passage of time does to us, not just in body and mind but in our changing priorities and perspectives. It’s a bitter-sweet Broth, rich in well-judged flavours.''
Mary Brennan **** The Herald 23rd October 2015
''The ingredients to this heartwarming Broth are more sweet than bitter, liberally salted with impish Scottish humour—it's a delight. Host Donna Rutherford, with her 50s glamour and warm, welcoming disposition, introduces us to real life stories on film screens from senior citizens Liz, David, Bill, Annie and the wonderful Mags. All are agreed that they don't feel their age, yet their bodies betray them. And all share a sense of humour, resilience and spirit.''
Lorna Irvine **** Across the arts 22nd October 2015
REVIEWS OF KIN:
"This solo performance is a powerful meditation on the shifting dynamics that seep into the relationship between middle-aged children and elderly parents. Talking straight to Rutherford’s unsentimental, unhistrionic lens, performers volunteer affectionate anecdotes that also venture into what is often unspeakable territory, giving raw, vulnerable voice to the encroaching practical concerns. Rutherford has an instinct for delving into the troubled heartland of everyday life. Here, she succeeds in confronting our fears while reminding us to celebrate shared humanity."
Mary Brennan ***** The Herald 11th February 2011
"... a who’s who of contemporary British theatre, including Claire Marshall and Cathy Naden of Forced Entertainment, Richard Gregory of Quarantine, Tim Ingram of Reckless Sleepers and the actor Alison Peebles – the performance asks its middle-aged participants to reflect on their changing relationships with elderly parents."
Peter Crawley The Irish Times, 11th May 2012
"A show that relates closely to the raw stuff of real life... Punctuated by Rutherford’s own live commentary on the theme in hand, as she sips tea and eats toast, the show is as gentle and caring an exploration of a difficult subject as can be imagined. And the strange thing is that it’s very gentleness combined with it visual richness, gradually unleashes a terrific depth of emotion, as we in the audience face the fact that none of us will avoid the quiet and sometimes heartbreaking domestic truths explored here."
Joyce McMillan **** The Scotsman, 10th Nov 2011
"Rutherford is a performer with a track record and experience that ensures her exploration has profound and significant depth... Impossible to watch without bringing your own experience to bear – an invitation Rutherford makes specific in the opening minutes – and it is inconceivable that these stories will not find resonances in the lives of each audience member. However, it is probably true that it will seem most true to those of us, like Rutherford in that vast tranche of time referred to as “middle age”, whose aged parents are a current reality and responsibility. As a piece of work, it is worth taking the time to note that KIN is quite beautifully and meticulously realised, technically and in its timing to the last grain of sand in an hour glass. And, as we learn, those timepieces are, like memory, more fickle than we believe."
Keith Bruce **** The Herald, 12th November 2011
"What her short, moving and absorbing show gives us, much like a [church] service, is the chance to step outside the normal run of things and contemplate our lives. This is not a show about tragedy or extraordinary events. It’s just that, in reflecting on their changing relationships, these five people in their 40s and 50s take time to meditate on their lives and their place in the world. Indeed, although the subject of Kin appears to be the aging mothers, it is really about their changing children, the only ones who have a voice in this show. Rutherford herself is in her early-40s and she talks about what it feels like to be a child who is no longer one of the young ones. This could come across as self-pity or self-obsession – after all, people have been growing old for a long time and, in that respect, there’s nothing special about this generation – but Kin is presented with so much care and delicacy that you can only be drawn in, finding yourself reflected in the various stories, and allowing yourself that rare time to step back and ponder."
Mark Fisher, 14th November 2011
"The indescribable relationship shift which takes place between middle-aged children and their elderly parents is the subject of Donna Rutherford's new semi-community project KIN – originating from interviews and discussions to a final production now touring around Scotland and other parts of the UK and Ireland. As the roles within families change as ageing children have more of a supporting role in their parents’ lives, as well as firming up their political or moral opinions on certain issues, the shift which can take place in expectation and perception can be a frightening and intensely uncertain one.
Mixed between audio, visual and live performance, Rutherford creates a theatrical piece in which she tracks the progression from youth to old age by making morning coffee, afternoon tea and evening coco – a symbol for the progression and almost ritualistic nature of our everyday lives. Rutherford explains how the piece is “very much about the unavoidable in that we’re quite good at avoiding change because it is difficult. It talks a lot about the fixed roles that siblings have due to birth order or personality and how once you’re pulled back into the family situation to give more support it’s difficult for the parents and siblings to acknowledge that you’ve changed and learnt how to deal with things better."
it’s about looking at the dysfunction within the functionality
Recorded interviews are used in the performance to compliment the live action, as a series of talking heads probe the nature of the family. Rutherford explains that “the talking to camera is done in documentary style and I go from a mixture of my own live presentation bits, from being very direct with the audience, to using quite poetic language – so it crosses quite a few formats which seem to work”. It gives the performance a subtly retrospective analysis of the bond between parent and child, mingling it with the artistic sensibilities which dramatise a difficult experience.
So the piece seems as much as anything to be about reflection, to approach the idea of family from different viewpoints and experiences which can either help or conflict with opinions between siblings and kinfolk. Rutherford however has managed to keep the piece focussed as it tussles against a certain ambiguity and mysteriousness. She explains how “it’s about relatively functional families. I didn’t expect people coming forward to tell a story if they had very difficult relationships with their parents. So it’s about looking at the dysfunction within the functionality.” And this focus prevents it from lecturing on the nature of loss, as Rutherford explains that she hasn’t experienced the death of a parent: “it’s a piece about being on the cusp of something, something inevitable, something unavoidable, something unspoken. No-one has died, no-one is in need of 24/7 care but they’re thinking about it a lot.”
it’s about the subtle shifts and how the child and parent negotiate those changes
Her role then becomes that of a documentary filmmaker almost, offering the chance for people to interact on the issues of family struggle without becoming too involved in the subject. Rutherford explains that “I don’t do drama therapy. So it’s not about that, but an offshoot from that is giving a platform to these difficult conversations”. Essentially, this platform is trying to make sense of an emotion which is confusing and tentative – either as the child begins to assume the role of the elderly parent, longs for the relationship experienced earlier in life or becomes more equipped to support difficulties the parent may be having."
This transferability of the piece’s investigation seems quite extensive. Students who have moved away from home to study and young kids who go straight into full-time work will have experienced the change in relationship with their parents as they enter the adult world, while young professionals will appreciate the nature of home owning and financial responsibility, arguably making the link with their parents more accessible. The beauty of this project lies in its humbleness, and Rutherford sums this up when saying “it’s about the subtle shifts and how the child and parent negotiate those changes".
Andrew Latimer - TV Bomb August 2012
REVIEWS OF OTHER SHOWS OVER THE YEARS
2001/02 "If I Knew Now What I Knew Then" The Scotsman: “Words, music & film, stay in the mind like something strong & healing. The overall effect is beautiful & full of a kind of soul-saving gentleness. Rutherford’s vision is ultimately uplifting”.
1997 “You Don’t Say" The Observer:“The highlight of the series; is the universal tale of love gone sour. In its compressed wit, it is better than many a full-length film”
1997 “Lonesome Standard Time” Aberdeen Journal: ” …walks a gang plank of improbabilities, dives head first into a strange sea and lives to tell the tale in a language that can only be described as extraordinary”
1996 “Every Blank Cries Shame” The Herald: “Rutherford has the idiosyncratic turn of phrase and febrile twist of the imagination that enables her to spike the expected moment with some sudden, disconcerting flash of insight … an artist of consummate understanding, compassion and onstage finesse”
1995 “All of Me, Why Not Take All of Me” The Herald: “The text mixes in telling fragments of song, a shrewd skein of myth and children’s story that edges the personal testimonies into something more universal, a realm of vulnerabilities, frustrations and hopes that is, all of us”
1994/95 “De Hele Waarheid, Niets Anders” “The Whole Truth, Nothing But" The List: “Rutherford holds out the promise of a new and accessible angle on national and cultural identities”
1993/ 94 “Ochone” The Herald: “Acute observation on love, trust and the shattering of illusions”